Published: Friday, January 18, 2013
Updated: Saturday, January 19, 2013 14:01
MALICIOUS SPIRIT In this notable film, a family is plagued by a vengeful ghost.
Those familiar with Guillermo del Toro know that he frequently juxtaposes children with dark spirits. In the film Mama, of which he was the executive producer, the familiar innocence of two girls is warped by the maternal and spiteful poltergeist, Mama. The thriller looks closely at the relationship between mother and child — or rather the absence of a mother from her children and how this is enough to drive maliciousness.
After their mother’s death, little Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and her infant sister Lily (Isabelle Nelisse) are taken to a desolate cabin in the woods where they are raised in by a maternal poltergeist they call Mama.
Years later, they are discovered by their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Anabel (Jessica Chastain). The couple decides to rescue the two girls and allows them to live in their house, but, unbeknownst to them, Mama follows as well. The story doesn’t follow a cliched path but rather makes slight detours around preconceived expectations.
Mama is more than just a stereotypical horror character: She both haunts and watches over the family. She is loved and feared, and it is this contradiction that makes the film more complex than a one-dimensional plot about a simple haunting. Mama raised Victoria and Lily from infancy, protecting them and fending for them throughout their childhood. It is only when others try to snatch the girls’ affections away from her that jealously warps her into a malevolent, vengeful spirit. As Victoria is drawn back to the real world, she falls out of love with Mama while Lily progressively relies on Mama more. The film also explores the dynamic between sisters as one returns to reality, and the other is left behind.
Unlike her younger sister, Victoria knew her real mother before Mama, and this is fundamental to explaining the difference between the two sisters’ relationships with the spirit. When she receives a new mother figure in the form of her uncle’s girlfriend, she recognizes that Mama is dangerous. The secret surrounding Mama inevitably leads the adults to travel back to the cabin to search for an answer, although they struggle to find clues as to who Mama really is.
This isn’t your typical ghost movie. It elegantly integrates humor without hurting the effect of the horror. The setting is reminiscent of perpetual twilight, with lighting apt for either a fairy tale or horror scene, but the ambiance of the film is dictated by Mama. The plot is well-structured and reaches a satisfying conclusion.
This above-average horror film is further redeemed by its integration of unlikely familial dynamics. Yhere is something about seeing fear in a child’s eyes that is inherently more chilling than any amount of blood and gore could ever be. Mama is riddled with more than enough startling moments to make it a thriller that’s worthy of the steep price of a movie ticket.