It doesn’t even matter if you find the final act a tad undercooked because by then you’ll already have seen one of the best horror movies made since 2007’s El Orfanato.
Mama is exquisitely directed by Andres Muschietti who expands upon his 2008 short film. Five minutes in you begin to realise that Mama isn’t typical Hollywood smut horror but one that challenges the clichés of the genre and the stock set of characters that come attached to it. Muschietti relinquishes the comfort of tried and tested horror tropes and instead serves a whole new set of subtly terrifying set pieces.
The plot is as simple as it is unsettling — four years after the mysterious death of their father, two girls are found in an abandoned cabin in the woods in feral condition. Their uncle decides to take care of them by bringing them home, but a shadowy feminine figure accompanies them to their new house. There are no mirror shots, nor are there any hackneyed false scares, the filmmakers pile on layer upon layer of hair raising dread as the tension becomes almost unbearable for your urinary duct. The mood and atmosphere is quite reminiscent of Orfanato, the best scene of the film is one that doesn’t feature the shadowy Mama on camera but shows the kids playing with ‘someone’ in their bedroom. It’s subtle yet powerful enough to decrease the temperature of your nether regions.
Jessica Chastain, fresh off the Oscar eyeing turn in Zero Dark Thirty plays a character that was probably never done in Hollywood horror — a punk rock guitarist aunt who is neither sexualised typical of the genre nor is a weak or delicate scream queen. Even the kids are quite unlike the ones found in other thrillers and the actors (eight-year-old Megan Charpentier and four-year-old Isabelle Nelisse) are incredible.
Muschuetti superbly argues the burden of choice that the characters make — the uncle is hospitalised and the reluctant aunt is left to deal with the kids, and the children who must choose between a woman who can give them love and a great life and a woman who can give them love even in death.
There are a few contrivances and it’s a bit annoying to see the film harking back to Hollywood snare of illogical characters. The biggest gaffe arrives in the CGI-laced finale when we see ‘too much’ of Mama that makes the novelty and terror fade away. The final scene, however, is unexpectedly moving and provocative, one that signals the arrival of a major talent behind the camera.