director Andy Muschietti
It’s one thing to make a movie with a beautiful actress like Jessica Chastain and make her look unattractive, but it’s much more egregious to make a movie with an actress like Jessica Chastain and make her look like a bad actress. Both feats achieved here in Mama from director Andy Muscheietti and producer Guillermo del Toro.
In Mama, Chastain plays a punkish rocker chick, married to the uncle of some very unfortunate children. In an opening scene, two young blond girls are taken by their disconsolate father to a cabin in the woods after he has slain their mother in part of a murder-suicide situation in which he plans to kill them as well. Only, before he can do it, he’s caught by some otherworldly figure. Flashing forward four years or so, the girls are discovered living like wild creatures in the cabin, given psychological evaluations and handed to their aunt and uncle. Even worse, they have a malevolent new “Mama”, this evil spirit that has been protecting them for the last long while.
The older girl has a bit more cognizance, being older when this even happened. The younger one is much more at sway by Mama. The psychologist doesn’t seem to think to share any of his analysis and historical research with the family. And Chastain’s rocker self is hardly overly mothering in her nature. Why exactly would the state have handed these at risk children over to this couple? Why does this couple have such a nice house?
Frankly, everything rings false in this film. And while it’s not a blood-splattered affair, it’s a heavily The Ring ()-influenced, Japanese style horror with creepy suggested images crawling around the edge of scenes. It’s its own kind of cribbing cliches. It’s not praise-worthy. It’s terrible.
Chastain, in her dark bob wig and poorly-defined character, is a far cry from the actress who has both looked beautiful and has seemed quite keen in films like Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and Lawless (2012). Any actor or actress is at the mercy of any film that they’re in for good and bad. This case is definitely bad.
I can see the elements of this film that intrigued. They intrigued me. I almost saw it in the theater. The idea of feral children with a malevolent spirit around them? That is kind of a new twist. It’s just feral children are usually cared for by professionals, not people with no parenting experience. Who also have very ill-defined character back stories.
I’ve said it before about del Toro, that the best scripts he has he usually directs himself.