Five years after Jeffrey murders his wife and kidnaps his children, only to then be killed himself, his brother Lucas tracks down the abandoned girls and takes them into his care, along with his reluctant girlfriend Annabel. The two girls, Victoria and Lily, struggle to adapt back into a civilised world after 5 years of feral life, and keep mentioning Mama, a seemingly imaginary maternal figure who looked after them in their isolation – only she might not be so imaginary, or willing to let her girls go.
Mama is a film that knows what its about and wears it openly on its sleeves. Overall, it’s a pretty effective film. There’re plenty of moments that are designed to send shivers down your spine, and though you’ll see most of them coming a mile away, some of them are pretty effective (This is a film that knows how to manipulate the background and foreground of a scene simultaneously with excellent results), and it clearly wants to get to the meat of its story as soon as possible.
This becomes a problem, in that the film is a bit too eager to let the audience in on the plot ahead of its characters. The film reveals that Mama is a real ghost far too early, which means that when the psychiatrists and other designated-rationalist characters try to come up with an explanation for her, it feels like its wasting the audience’s time.
It makes sense in-universe (the characters themselves wouldn’t be so easy to accept the girls’ story) but because there’s no doubt in the viewers’ mind, it makes it feel like the movie is keeping us waiting for better stuff to come, which ultimately doesn’t.
It’s also a bit of a letdown when we finally see Mama – when she’s shadows and tricks-of-light she’s a scary presence, but when you get a good look at her, it’s pretty unconvincing.
Annabel’s character arc of growing into a maternal woman is also handled rather bluntly – the first time we see her she’s celebrating a negative result on a pregnancy test, and her initial “lack-of-motherly-instinct” towards the girls comes off more as “insensitive bitch”, which of course turns into full blown mother-figure by the end of the film – but Jessica Chastain manages to make her a watchable character, and overcomes some pretty clichéd writing.
The two girls are suitably creepy in the way that all children are, and I also have to give the film credit for daring to go with a pretty unconventional ending, even if the film has run out of steam by that point. There’s also some fairly impressive visual effects (Mama herself notwithstanding) and the film has a great run with visual motifs and themes.
It’s ultimately a decently enjoyable ghost flick that won’t be a waste of time to see. The original short film it’s based on (included on the BluRay) is a much more effective viewing experience, but it won’t harm you to check out the full movie either.