October 30, 2013

Rabid Rewind: Mama starring Jessica Chastain

Mama
starring Jessica Chastain, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nelisse, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Daniel Kash, and Javier Botet
directed by Andres Muschietti
screenplay by Neil Cross, Andres Muschietti, and Barbara Muschietti
Universal Pictures (2013)

I gotta give credit to Jessica Chastain for her work as an actor, because after being thoroughly impressed by Zero Dark Thirty I wondered if this horror movie was just something she did to pay the rent before hitting it big. Turns out she brought it here, because for the first thirty minutes of this movie I thought she was a total asshole.

Chastain plays Annabel, a snarky, self-centered guitarist in a nothing-happening rock band. She's shacked up with Lucas, a handsome, straight-laced guy, and things are going really good between them until Lucas' brother and sister-in-law die in a car crash. What's worse is the two orphaned daughters, Victoria and Lilly, go unfound and stay missing for five years in the wilderness. Annabel tolerates Lucas' obsession with finding the girls, even soothing him on those despondent nights when no headway is made in the search, but she never thinks for a second the girls will be found--and she sure as hell never thought she'd be placed in the role of stepmom.

In Annabel's defense, those two girls, Victoria and Lilly, are creepy as hell. When two hired searchers find them, they've been foraging off wild cherries and squirrel meat, rendered to feral creatures instead of doe-eye little angels. But Lucas loves them and wants to do right by them. So Annabel is along for the ride.

The girls move into the house and then things get really weird.

Creepy kids are less a trope than they are a prerequisite these days in horror movies. Done to death, but it works more often than not. Maybe it's just 'cause I'm not a parent. Still, the kids aren't the real threat, as something has followed them out of the woods. It's not entirely clear at first, but a mystery unfolds and Annabel realizes that if the two little girls stand a chance of living some semblance of a normal life, it's up to her to protect them from "Mama."

The movie came out in theaters last January, as I recall, and I'm usually leery of any horror movies that are released during winter. They tend to be crap, in my opinion, thrown out as counterweight to all of the Oscar bait in theaters that time of year. Mama delivers, though. There's a gripping, genuinely suspenseful story there. Sure, there is a hokey jump-scare or two, but the whole engine of the movie is the relationship between Annabel and the two girls, and it really works. The ending gets a little muddy and a little schmultzy, but the very end packs a wallup, and was definitely not what I was expecting.

If you gave this movie a pass, you may want to reconsider.

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