Thursday, June 6, 2013


I'm generally immune to advertising campaigns of any sort,  but when MAMA (2013)  started giving TV viewers glimpses of some genuine creepiness in an effort to fill theater seats,  I knew I'd be purchasing the blu-ray when released.  As a genre,  contemporary horror films tend toward  teen sex/slasher scenarios that have grown quite tiresome and predictable in their use of "extreme" imagery,  with little reference to anything other than bloody retribution. While bloodletting is minimal in this film,  there are generous amounts of ambiguity in the proceedings,  which does more to promote uneasiness than the confusion  one may encounter if one tends to be a literalist.  Guillermo del Toro is credited as presenter and his fingerprints are everywhere (oh those moths!),  although director Andres Muschetti brings a first to the horror genre,  a ghostly maternal figure based on the female portraits of ill-fated Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani.  Those portraits'  elongated faces, blank eyes and basic geometry are equally indebted to both modernist sculptor Constantin Brancusi and  African ritual masks.  The acting is generally right on the mark,  especially that of  the little girls Victoria and Lilly,  seemingly protected and scared by Mama.  Jessica Chastain's evolution from child-hating punk bassist to unlikely surrogate mom is effective and believable.  In fact,  this movie (unlike most of the genre) succeeds on the strength of its acting,  characterization,  and atmosphere.  It's horror (and there are jolts aplenty to be enjoyed) is intensified by limiting views of Mama and effective use of CGI,  especially in Mama's movements.  I'm pretty sure the element of magic realism (vaginal holes sprouting moths,  an enormous pile of cherry pits suggesting Mama's nurturing side,  and especially the short,  acid-colored dream sequence that "awakens"  Chastain and gives us Mama's history as tortured soul) come from del Toro.  While I merely touched upon  plot here,  those viewers who've enjoyed films like THE UNINVITED (1944) and the HAUNTING (1963) would be well advised to check out MAMA's serious charms.

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