Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In the Theater with...Mama

Even though Mama was co-written and directed by Andrés Muschietti, you can feel the influence of executive producer Guillermo del Toro, because del Toro loves nature in its most twisted, bumpy, and gnarled forms. Whether it's tiny twigs, giant tree roots, or anthropomorphic demon-vegetables, if it has an organically uneven texture, this creative genius is all over it.

"Look, my skin condition is covered under the ADA, jerk!"
(note: from another movie)

But this movie isn't all creepy primeval forest. There's also the equally disquieting banality of the American suburbs, which is a perfect counterpoint to all of the dried-out bark textures of nature's dark side. A forest full of creepy trees is creepy, sure, but a token remainder of organic detritus is even creepier when placed in the plastic artificiality of a modern American home. It, like, radically confronts the inauthenticity around it.

Um, so...bath time, then?

Thus we have the strange premise of Mama: two little girls are abandoned by their father in the woods and not seen again for five years, when they are stumbled upon by some half-hearted redneck search and rescuers. It seems they've been hanging around someone's mid-century modern lake cabin all this time, eating cherries and becoming filthy. The opening titles also suggest they've learned to kill raccoons, but we never really get to see any of that.

Home, sweet freaky home

How could young children survive for years on end with only the fruits of the forest to eat and someone's once-chic weekend place for shelter? What unspeakable force was guarding and protecting them all this time? Mama.

They're so cute - they hardly seem like demon possessed monsters at all

After an astonishingly quick program of re-socialization by a smarmy child psychologist (Daniel Kash), they're sent home with their uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, aka Jaine Lannister) and his non-maternal riot grrrrlfriend (Jessica Chastain, aka Veronica Mars' pregnant neighbor Sarah). The kids' deeply troubled animalistic natures have seemingly been soothed and they're quickly ensconced in a suburban home of suprassing blandness.

Fear of imminent death will bring us together as a family

Naturally, the disturbing force of otherness from the woods doesn't stay quiet for long. It seems the spirit that guarded the girls all those years hasn't given up her custodian duties quite yet. Worse yet, she's jealous - even of Jane Chastain's heroically half-assed version of foster parenting.

Mama, I've got to go...

And here we have the least satisfying part of what has already been a mediocre horror movie. The Mama spirit which is greedily asserting control over the future of the girls and threatening the other characters turns out to be a ghost which is frustratingly multi-modal. She's a smoky wisp one minute, and a corporeal manifestation with classic del Toro gnarled fingers the next. She's protective yet reckless, and playful yet violent almost simultaneously. Seriously, giggling/screeching banshee woman, pick a personality and stick with it.

Are four able-bodied human beings the equal of one twisty-faced mom hag? Maybe.

No spoilers, but the final scenes brings us back to...the creepy forest. Note the naked, twisting limbs behind our friends. The message is clear: don't spend too many years along in the forest, or a perverted Freudian nightmare will get you.

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