Saturday, 18 May 2013
The last thing I've seen that Guillermo del Toro had to do with was Pan's Labyrinth so when I saw his name pop up on the intro to Mama, even only in a producing role, I got pretty stoked.
I went in knowing only two things: 1) that this was a pretty standard horror movie and 2) apparently this is what Jessica Chastain decided to follow up Zero Dark Thirty with and it seemed like a bit of a step down. It turns out, both of these assumptions are pretty true, but not in as a bad way, as I thought.
Mama is a pretty standard horror film. Two very young girls find themselves lost and alone in the woods after their family kind of breaks down. They're later found, five years later, having survived in the wilderness somehow. They're placed by social services with what's left of their family: their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau a.k.a Jaime fucking Lannister) and his girlfriend Annabelle (Jessica Chastain). Only, they soon find out that whatever it was that was protecting the girls in the woods isn't quite ready to give up its motherhood just like that.
The film feels a lot like a good old fashioned, proper ghost story. It's as if someone took one of the better short stories from Are you Afraid of the Dark? and gave it some talent, a budget and a feature length timeslot. And if you had a decent childhood, you'll know that that's awesome.
There aren't really any gimmicks here. It's a ghost. No it doesn't exist through image taken of itself or it isn't some misunderstood benevolent spirit or there isn't actually a twists where it turns out to be aliens or a being from another dimension. There's no playing around with conventions of the genre to appear clever and, thank god, it's not a first person found-footage film. It's a fucking ghost story, what more does it need? Let's be honest here, ghosts are pretty damn scary all on their own. Even with a multitude of traditional scares and a not-exactly-groundbreaking plot, it's all done well and Mama is a good example of a simple horror story done well.
In no small part is the effect of the film down to the lead actors. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is the main supporting actor as Lucas and this guy is solid. I may be biased because I'm really into the whole redemption arc his character in Game of Thrones has going on right now, but this guy's gonna be a round for a while. He's had his foot in the door of English-language productions for a while now, but he's really turning the boot to crack it open now.
Jessica Chastain, fast becoming one of my favourite actresses, is centre stage and rightfully so as Annabelle. First off I've got to say I love the styling of her character. The goth-rock chic look she has going on is like Alice Glass of Crystal Castles, only she'd had a normal adolescence. T-shirts plastered with Fear and Loathing references and The Misfits logo, along with the short, sharply styled black hair and dark makeup give Chastian a remarkably different appearance to her CIA Maya of ZDT and she pulls of this massively different character just as well. Embodying both the audience's compassion for and frustration with these two troubled little girls, Chastain gives us a believably conflicted and empathetic performance with this punk turned mother.
These two are definitely a pair who've got a lot more to give, hopefully as good as what they have delivered so far. Not to mention that this was director Andrés Muschietti's first full length film so hopefully we'll see more from him.
Mama is a resoundingly solid horror film that demonstrates you don't always have to have a gimmick. As long as you've got good foundations and strong talent, you can scare the shit out of people with the simplest toolset you have.