Description from Netflix:
Two girls left to fend for themselves in the forest for five lonely years after the death of their mother find refuge in the home of their uncle. But it soon becomes clear that the girls have not arrived alone in this woodsy supernatural thriller.
Notable actors: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
I had wanted to see this as soon as it came out, but fate and timing did not allow it. Thankfully, I was able to catch a matinee yesterday.
And I loved it.
It had the same kind of feel as The Orphanage (I know that's kind of a lazy comparison, seeing as how Del Toro has ties to both of them, but it doesn't mean that it's not accurate). It had a great atmosphere throughout the entire film. They really set the feeling of dread and overwhelming creepiness up pretty early, and it cast a shadow over the rest of the film. Even in the slow moments, I couldn't help but feel a little tense. They used a lot of wide shots, so I was always looking over the shoulder of the characters. Looking for any movement at all.
It was a beautifully creepy movie, which is why the comparison to The Orphanage is so accurate. Both movies are overwhelmingly eerie. But, where The Orphanage only goes so far as to be "creepy", Mama hits the "downright scary" button a few times. The Orphanage had some tense and scary moments, but nothing came close to the terror that Mama slung around.
I'm not ashamed to say that I jumped a few times during this movie. There were times when I knew something was coming, and I still jumped. And yet, I never felt that any of jumps were cheap scares. They worked hard for them, and they delivered. That's no easy feat.
The acting was terrific. It's no surprise that Jessica Chastain was fantastic. With as great as she is, it's kind of amazing that she's just now breaking out (she was also terrific in Lawless and Zero Dark Thirty).
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones) was also great, though his role was a bit more limited than I thought it would be.
The real surprise here were the kids. This movie relied heavily on them, and they pulled through. They were amazing. Megan Charpentier (Victoria) was outstanding. She had an especially complex character to play, and she did a terrific job. She was torn between her old life (with Mama) and her new life (with Annabel & Lucas). She had to run a gauntlet of emotions, and she nailed all of them.
Even the actress who played young Victoria (Morgan McGarry) was terrific. An adorable little kid. And her dad was going to kill her. Some people, man...
Isabelle Nelisse (Lilly) was also terrific. Even though she had slightly less of a character (a feral child who never really seemed to grasp the concept of the real world), she was still terrific. She had a simple innocence to her, and she played it perfectly. Even with the overwhelming creepiness, there were still a lot of playful moments with Mama, and Lilly was at the heart of those.
I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the one massive complaint I've heard about this movie: the CGI of Mama. It's quite possible that I had heard so many negative comments about it that my expectations were lowered so far that the actual CGI couldn't possibly be as bad as my mind had made it out to be.
It could also be that I have recently made peace with CGI. My deal with CGI is this: as long as the movie is good, I don't really care if the CGI isn't amazing. I refuse to let bad CGI kill a good movie for me. Now, if it's a bad movie with bad CGI, all bets are off. But less-than-stellar CGI is not a deal breaker for me.
Also, I really don't think the CGI was that bad. Not enough to distract from the creepiness of the movie, anyway.
This has nothing to do with CGI, but I really love this shot
One small fact before I end this review. The part of Mama was played by an actor by the name of Javier Botet. He is a horrifying man. All those weird, disjointed stances Mama took? All Botet. Which is simultaneously amazing and horrifying. (For the record, Botet also played the role of Nina Medeiros in all of the [Rec] movies.)
Overall, I really, really loved this movie. As I mentioned before, it has a great atmosphere, which gives the entire film a creepiness that never lets up. I really loved everything about this movie. I'm already looking forward to watching it again when it comes out on DVD. This could easily become my favorite movie of the year.
I have a handful of questions about the ending of the movie, and the fallout that would occur. I don't want to bring them up here, as they would include a lot of spoilers, none of which I necessarily want to bring up here. Very soon, I'll either do a post about the fallout from certain horror movies (using Zombie's Halloween 1 & 2 as a guide), or start up a discussion blog filled with spoilers (I doubt this will happen, as I doubt enough people read this blog to necessitate another one starting up). If anyone has a preference, leave a comment.
I can't end this review without a few words about Jessica Chastain's character, Annabel. Her character goes through a pretty big transformation as well: from a punk-rocker who cheers when she finds out she's not pregnant to a protective and loving mother for Victoria and Lilly. (Even her wardrobe changed: from low-cut tank-tops to, eventually, a turtleneck sweater.)
It is her punk-rocker side that I want to point out. They spent a little bit of time on it, and it kind of made me laugh. My favorite part was when her and Lucas were trying to get custody of the kids. Part of the case against them featured the statement, "Annabel is in a band." Granted, the point was more, "how can they support these kids when they don't make any money?", but it sounded more like, "She can't take care of these kids...she plays the devil's music!"
Here are a few pictures showing her transformation (and, again, featuring some of the wide shots this film used).