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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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“There are critics who see their job as to be on the side of the artist, or in a state of imaginative sympathy or alliance with the artist. I think it’s important for a critic to be populist in the sense that we’re on the side of the public. I think one of the reasons is, frankly, capitalism. Whether you’re talking about restaurants or you’re talking about movies, you’re talking about large-scale commercial enterprises that are trying to sell themselves and market themselves and publicize themselves. A critic is, in a way, offering consumer advice. I think it’s very, very important in a time where everything is commercialized, commodified, and branded, where advertising is constantly bleeding into other forms of discourse, for there to be an independent voice kind of speaking to—and to some extent on behalf of—the public.”
~ A. O. Scott On One Role Of The Critic

“Every night, we’d sit and talk for a long, long time and talk about the process and I knew he was very, very intrigued about what could be happening. Then of course, one of the fascinating things he told me about was how he had readers who were reading for him that never knew it was Stanley Kubrick. So if he heard of a novel, he would send it out to people. I think he did it through newspaper ads at the time. And he would send it out to people and ask for a kind of synopsis or a critique of the novel. And he would read those. And it was done anonymously. But he said there were housewives and there were barristers and all sorts of people doing that. And I thought, yeah, that’s a really good way to open up the possibilities. Because otherwise, you’re randomly looking, walking through a bookstore or an airport. I said, “How many people are doing this?” It was about 30 people.”
~ George Miller’s Conversations With Kubrick