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MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: Mama

 

 

MAMA (Two and a Half  Stars)
U.S.:Andy Muschietti, 2013


Remember the good old, bad old days of movie horror, when screen frightmeisters didn’t always seem to try to turn our stomachs to make our hair stand on end? Remember when blood and gore and paranormal high   jinks and lousy, deliberately  amatuerish-looking camerawork and  weren‘t the names of the game, when audiences could get scared at a moviewithout   also getting revolted? Some pretty good movies helped make that grisly transition — shows like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead and Nightmare on Elm Street, and even not so good but interesting pictures like The Blair Witch project– but that doesn’t mean those same movies weren’t also resposnible for an awful lot of crap.
Mama is something of a throwback, and at   times a stunning one.. At other times, it’s not stunning at all. But at its best, this state-of-the-art modern ghost story   — another scare saga from the Guillermo Del Toro factory — recalls those   earlier, less bloody days of fear and (not necessarily) loathing, when horror   films were made for adults, and when they could even strive to be a little subtle, and literate.  Filled with elegant, spooky images of otherworldly   phantasms plaguing fairly real-seeming people, Mama spins a yarn about two little   feral girls, Victoria and Lilly, left in the forest in a shabby cabin after   their distraught father (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) freaks out, following a   financial wipe-out, and hustles the girls out to the forest. His goal: trying to kill them both, followed by his own suicide.
The girls, however are rescued by a sinister-looking wraith-thing that   is (or was) apparently their mother (played by Javier Botet, with lots of   CGI). And five years later — after somehow surviving in the woods by   themselves for all that time — the girls are discovered and brought back to   civilization. (Unfortunately, there are still financial woes, thanks to the U.   S. Congress at its most monstrous.)

So the lassies are set up in a fairly posh home by an inquisitive  doctor interested in their psychology (Daniel Kasha as Dr. Dreyfuss). They are  cared   for by their late father’s brother, a Bohemian-style artist named Lucas   (Coster-Waldau in the second stanza of a double part) and his punky-pretty girl band girlfriend   Annabel (Jessica Chastain). Needless to say, the two little girls – the tamer   and more civilized Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and younger, wilder Lilly   (Isabelle Nelisse) — prove quite a handful. Not as much of s handful, though,   as the flying, swooping, totally spooky creature who is apparently their very   protective mom. Or what she’s become.

 

I’m not partial to a lot of   modern horror movies, especially the ones with a big Ick-factor. But I like   most of Del Toro’s work, and I enjoyed this one. Del Toro was the executive   producer here, and the director-cowriter, making his feature debut, is Andy   Muschietti. He’s no Del Toro, but he’s an imaginative chap with a very spiffy visual   sense,
Besides, starting Mama off with a big financial crisis   demonstrates that the movie has a good sense of what’s genuinely scary about   contemporary society — and who the real monsters are. Also, having a heroine   who’s a punk rocker of sorts shows both that the movie is somewhat hip and   that Jessica Chastain — an Oscar favorite this year for her work as the CIA   Bin Laden hunter in “Zero Dark Thirty“ — can be an amazingly versatile   actress.

Playing Annabel, she attracts and repels (a little) and stirs things   up. She also gives us a sense of reality, and her believable reactions to all   the spooky things swirling around her pull us right into the action. So do the   wild responses of Charpentier and Lelisse as Victoria and Lilly, two of the   scariest little girls on screen since the blank-faced little ghosts in Stanley   Kubrick’s and Stephen King’s chilling classic The Shining.

Anyway, watching Mama, I was occasionally  reminded of another classic movie horror tale about a little girl and her   mother, producer Val Lewton’s and co-director Robert Wise’s 1944 low-budget   Curse of the Cat People. Mama isn’t low-budget, and it doen’t have any cat people, cursed or not, but, at times, it scares you without creeping you out.   So does Jessica Chastain.

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“The evening’s curious vanity and irrelevance stay with me, if only because those qualities characterize so many of Hollywood’s best intentions. Social problems present themselves to many of these people in terms of a scenario, in which, once certain key scenes are licked (the confrontation on the courthouse steps, the revelation that the opposition leader has an anti-Semitic past, the presentation of the bill of participants to the President, a Henry Fonda cameo), the plot will proceed inexorably to an upbeat fade. Marlon Brando does not, in a well-plotted motion picture, picket San Quentin in vain: what we are talking about here is faith in a dramatic convention. Things “happen” in motion pictures. There is always a resolution, always a strong cause-effect dramatic line, and to perceive the world in those terms is to assume an ending for every social scenario… If the poor people march on Washington and camp out, there to receive bundles of clothes gathered on the Fox lot by Barbra Streisand, then some good must come of it (the script here has a great many dramatic staples, not the least of them in a sentimental notion of Washington as an open forum, cf. Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington), and doubts have no place in the story.”
~ Joan Didion On Hw’d In 1970

CAMPION: We were driving around the countryside the other day, and we happened to chance upon a lone bull and cow going through some sex rituals. I was so surprised to see how lengthy the whole process was for this bull. He started licking the cow’s shin and worked his way quite laboriously up toward her ass. And every now and again, you thought, “Maybe she’s ready now—he’ll try a quick move.”
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: She wasn’t ready.
CAMPION: She made it clear that that wasn’t the case. We couldn’t even wait; it was like 15 minutes, but it was really adorable. Even when we came back, they were still at it. The foreplay was phenomenal.
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: You don’t think of animal love in that way.
~ Jane Campion And Sam Taylor-Johnson in Interview

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