Mama is the first horror movie I’ve seen in a very, very, very long time which doesn’t operate on the concept of horror porn.
By this I mean it doesn’t go overboard with the gore, blood, skin slashing, and screaming purely for the sake of titillation. In fact, there’s very little of any of this in the movie at all. Forget going overboard – it barely gets on board.
Mama is the story of two little girls named Victoria and Lilly. Their father (apparently driven by a personal financial collapse) drives the two girls into the woods one day to kill them. As he is about to shoot the elder girl, something (or someone) happens upon the scene and everything goes black.
Five years later, the girls are discovered alive, though they have apparently been living in the woods in the interim and now resemble beast more than anything human. The are taken in by their uncle and his girlfriend, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Jessica Chastain, solely because an eccentric doctor (Daniel Kash) wants to study them. In exchange for being allowed to observe the girls, the doctor offers the couple a life of luxury they would otherwise never be able to afford in exchange.
Chastain’s character soon begins to develop maternal feelings for the girls (hence the title) though she is clearly ill at ease in giving up her inherent selfishness. It’s a bit of a stretch for Chastain, who seems ill at ease in some of the film’s tenser moments, but she suffices.
My guess is fans of the horror genre won’t be crazy about this one. Any respect it gets from fans will be slight and fleeting. But it’s worth watching, if for no other reason than that it reminds us that horror films are sometimes scarier in what they don’t show than in what they do.