MAMA is mad. Mad angry and Mad crazy. She rules a truly spooky roost in this jar-the-jaded 2013 ghost treat, starring the always-surprising Jessica Chastain and a couple of very odd little girls. It was the debut directorial effort by Andy Muschietti (the It duo), who adapted from a 3-minute Argentinian short he’d directed, co-written with his sister Barbara. The siblings then worked the screenplay for the feature, with crime novelist Neil Cross (Luther) sharing credit. In our review of the first segment of It, we too cavalierly snarked that when it comes to horror flicks, ghosts and apparitions rarely do the trick for this smug reporter. Then I visited Mama…..*
‘Lucas Desange’ (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) and his punk rocker girlfriend ‘Annabel’ (Jessica Chastain) take in the nieces of his late brother, who flipped out in a bad way. The girls somehow survived five years alone in the woods and need extra TLC to return to normality. Unfortunately for all concerned, an apparition the kids have dubbed ‘Mama’, who watched over them when they were isolated, now wants to claim what she sees as hers.
Jessica Chastain is an acting chameleon who enriches every project she’s attached to. The film has a tension level, sustained by the cast, direction and camera to a tightly drawn degree that when it’s time for Mama to make herself visible, it’s jolting-revolting enough to send a bona fide chill-wave rippling through your chest and out your backbone.
Victoria and Lily are played, respectively, by two remarkable young Canadian actresses: Megan Charpentier, 11, and 9-year-old Isabelle Nélisse (ease up on those butterflies, kid). Co-existing with makeup and effects, spectral Spanish actor Javier Botet inhabits Mama. Botet’s condition of the genetic disorder Marfan Syndrome lends itself to roles calling for unique physical attributes.
“Daddy! There’s a woman outside… She’s not touching the floor!”
Though it was filmed mostly in Canada (Ontario and Quebec), with some work done in Spain, the story is set in the town of Clifton Forge, Virginia. Your globe-trotting scribe lived a few miles from there for several years, and while it’s fun to see that lovely part of the state picked as a story setting, it is a wee regrettable they didn’t make take advantage of the actual, bountiful locales. Swiping them Allegheny Highlands to the side, the film-makers made smart use of a $15,000,000 budget. Along with delivering quality goods, that trim outlay was a coup: the movie racked up 53rd place in ’13, earning $146,428,000.
With Daniel Kash, Jane Moffat, Morgan McCarry (as the younger Victoria), Maya & Sierra Dawe (as younger Lily), Julia Cantrey. 100 minutes.
* Creep’d out? Wanna check the door to the basement and the hatch to the attic? Do it before you watch the 1963 version of The Haunting, the first Poltergeist, It Follows, The Babadook…..and Mama. Helping to birth this chiller, as Executive Producer, was Guillermo del Toro, a guy who likes to scare with flair—-The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, The Shape Of Water…….
Another move up the ladder for Ms. Chastain, 35, who clobbered a one-two punch with this and Zero Dark Thirty; a major win for the Muschietti’s, on to big-scale projects; laurels for the talented kids.