Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Mama - The scoop and digest


Like a chef who cooks and prepares food in a high quality restaurant, you can’t really go wrong with any collaboration involving Guillermo del Toro as for the moment, his reputation is hotter than most in the film industry.

I can't wait for the very exciting Pacific Rim.

Okay, this isn’t his barbeque as Andres Muschietti is in charge of the steak and sausages but the role of Executive Producer is hardly subordinate.

So do things go bump in the night or does Mr. Muschietti just deserve a bump on the head?

Plot details and/or spoilers will be met with elemental animosity.

Those angering maternal instinct include:

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau – Lucas/Jeffrey
Jessica Chastain – Annabel
Daniel Kash – Dr. Dreyfuss
Megan Charpentier - Victoria
Isabelle Nelisse – Lilly
Javier Botet – Mama
Jane Moffat - Jean

Once upon a time…

(not in Mexico or America).

It is explained that Jeffrey is a father who hasn’t had the best time of it.  Knee deep in financial shit and after killing his wife, he takes his two young daughters (Victoria and Lilly) away but skids his car out of control due to high-speed and erratic driving.

The vehicle smashes into a tree but they all survive the accident.  He takes them to ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ where surroundings are almost as bleak as their situation.

Jeffrey is teary eyed and while bottling taking his own life, he takes a gun to Victoria’s head but before he can squeeze the trigger, ‘something’ attacks and snaps his neck…

They better like fruit because a diet of cherries is heavily inferred...

Unlike the title credits roll, this is anything but infantile.

Five years later.

Uncle Lucas organises a search party and they stumble upon the mysterious cabin.

Inside, they find the children who have adapted to life as feral animals as they both prefer to crawl on all fours rather than the traditional upright human way.

The good news is given to Lucas and they are brought back to civilisation under the psychiatric care of Dr. Dreyfuss.

A custody battle ensues and it is Lucas vs Great Aunt Jean.

Dreyfuss is fascinated by drawings and the children’s musings about ‘Mama’.

While fighting their case, he concludes that they survived abandonment by creating a make believe protector.

The children return to Lucas and Annabel’s abode and we quickly learn that Victoria and Lilly are rather different personalities.

Victoria seems to have reacted better to the rehabilitation into society and Lily still walks barefoot complete with table manners worthy of a beast.

Chomping on moths and even your sister’s hair can’t be nutritional.

What’s that saying, “You can take the girl out of the cabin, but you can’t take the cabin out of the girl.”  No?  Oh well, never mind.

After a bit of getting to know you shit, it seems that Mama has vacated to pastures new as the sisters talk and play with the entity.

One night, after noticing moths in flight, Lucas investigates a hole seeping black liquid and moths.

His curiosity results in an accident as when ‘something’ briefly emerges, scares the shit out of him and the result is a stint in the hospital as he suffers a brief coma.

You could see that coming more than a 50 yard penalty taken from a nervous toddler.

Annabel reluctantly agrees to take responsibility and continue to care for the oddly behaved children.

This rock chick is going to hear different bangs to those coming from her band mate’s drums.

After some ‘jealous’ warnings from Victoria, she seeks help from Dreyfuss and he further toasts Victoria about who or where Mama is.

Apparently she lives in the walls.

Playing detective, his investigation leads him to the legend of a 19th century mother separated from her child.  Edith was a mental asylum patient which is confirmed via a visual nightmare had by Annabel.

Edith is seen taking back her baby after attacking a nun with a knitting needle.  When she is cornered by a pursuing angry mob, she commits suicide by jumping off a cliff to the water below and unbeknownst to her, the baby is killed when snagged on a branch.

At some archival point, Dreyfuss’s assistant explains that a spirit can become so after a corpse has been exposed to the mercy of weather for a period of time.

Annabel isn’t the only one seeing nastiness as after coming to, Lucas observes a terrifying vision of Jeffrey urging a visit to the cabin.

Meanwhile, the bond between Victoria and Annabel has grown, as does her reluctance to play ball with Mama, unlike Lilly who is still besotted.

Another unwanted presence in the form of Jean appears and after seeing bruises on Lilly, reports Annabel to social services claiming child abuse.

The good doctor’s research leads him to Mama’s haunt and while panic shooting (with his camera), he is killed.

If only he had the Camera Obscura, then he might have stood a chance...

Annabel wants answers and finds them by stealing case files from Dreyfuss’s office.  She listens and learns from his computer that Mama and Edith is indeed the same person.

Pause there for a second because did anybody else notice a spelling goof during this scene?

Well there was and I’m sure I wasn’t imagining seeing the word research being spelt as ‘reasearch’.

Let’s not get started on when the sisters are told to get some kip, daylight can clearly be seen.  Are Victoria and Lilly vampires?

Anyway, Lucas has left the ward and sets off for the woods.

As things start to come to a head, the heavy touch of the green eyed monster grips Mama and causes her to attack Annabel.

However, it’s the unofficial member of ‘Supergrass’ who feels the fatal wrath of Mama.  After a possession later, makes a swift exit with the girls.

Annabel regains consciousness and taking the remains of Mama’s child, she’s on a mission.

After meeting young waif Lucas, boyfriend and girlfriend investigate the cabin, where they discover the result of Mama’s consumption and a mere empty husk of Jean remains as it collapses like a jelly on a wet mattress.

According to script, Edith should be reliving her suicide moment so let’s get up there.

Sure enough, Mama is preparing the girls for this ‘pact’ over the cliff.  A more human guise is assumed by spectre as she accepts the offering of her child from Annabel.

This seems to pacify the wavy haired ghoul but when Lilly calls after her on retreat, that really pisses her off and proceeds to go ape shit, destroying the child’s broken remains in the process.

She injures Lucas and attacks Annabel who is urged to ‘go to sleep’ by Victoria.  Annabel manages to find enough energy to keep hold of Victoria who chooses to stay with her and Lucas. 

Lilly is not convinced and prefers the alternative…

Mama and Lilly become one within a cocoon and they hurtle downwards, hitting the same branch that originally killed her baby centuries ago.

This time, the impact transforms them into a swarm of moths and while enjoying a family embrace, a moth comes to rest on Victoria which she believes to be Lilly.

I really enjoyed this one and proof that a trailer can be misleading as it suggests a full-on ghost fest.

In truth, this is really a tragic and sad story of a mother’s desperation.

Andres Muschietti directs an expertly crafted tale creating characters you care about while sympathising with their plight.

The sound makes any film on the big screen and in this case, is made more effective by whatever screech the antagonist emits.

Mama is neither eye candy or particularly horrific but at least her gurgling, screaming and moaning is more frightening than her wardrobe and unnourished barnet.

Her dislocated posture and elongated fingers make for an above average CG model with the unnatural grace of getting from A to B ensuring the look of a different apparition.

It has to be said that her often disjointed manoeuvres shrieks the infamous ‘Spider Walk’ scene, left on the cutting room floor by William Friedkin in 1973 classic The Exorcist.

I previously scooped The Possession, together with the excellent Sinister and this steals from both.

The case for the prosecution has weight because the former focuses on moths and the latter uses disturbing child scrawls.

Jump moments can come thick and fast and while most rely on a loud scream or familiar bang, others can be clever as something quite obvious becomes unexpected.

The audience I shared this experience with made more screams than yelps.

Seasoned horror veterans will be wise to such scare tactics but will applaud other endeavours such as scenes not directly involving Mama.

Primarily, the jump factor happens within the house and while it does succeed to a certain extent, this is where Muschietti’s vision slightly tumbles as he could be accused of overkill.

Those expecting a gore-drenched marathon should look away now because there is very little sight of blood.

Is it scary?  I’d say not really but Mama does make for some emotional moments.

While Coster-Waldau and Chastain enjoy contrasting roles, special mentions have to go to Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse who despite their tender years, give blistering performances.

Their talent suggests they will not be one-hit chart sensations.

As this is a totally different type of paranormal pleasure, it’s unfair to draw comparisons to Sinister but despite some spiritual reservations, I would highly recommend climbing on board this supernatural rollercoaster.

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