Friday, January 18, 2013
Richard Roeper's review
Truth be told, I didn't expect to like Mama (directed and cowritten by Andrés Muschetti along with Barbara Muschetti and Neil Cross, executive produced by Guillermo del Toro) as much as I did. While at times intriguing -- I liked the first Paranormal Activity  movie as well as last year's The Cabin in the Woods  -- I generally go to these films because I know a lot of young people are going to see them (I've been responsible in overseeing the youth group at Annunciata during the whole of my time here) and I do see part of the "mission" of my blog here to give parents a "heads-up" as to films that their teens may be talking about.
Indeed the run-up to the release of Mama had captured the imagination of the family of one of our secretaries here at the parish. She has five children, all girls and apparently the 4th and 6th graders have taught their baby sister, 4 years old, to go around the house and reach out with her hand while saying "Mama" in the same creepy fashion as the little girls do in the film (to the amusement of all, including the 4 year old who, smiling from ear to ear apparently really enjoys the attention she gets by doing this ;-). So part of my mission in seeing this movie was to see if this film would "work" (be appropriate and not scare the daylights out of the 4th and 6th grader girls who've put their little sister up to this ;-).
In answer to that question, Parents, honestly ... while the film has no nudity and as far as I can remember little to no profanity (I work in an ethnic (generally Slavic/Hispanic) parish in Chicago, so I honestly tend to have a "tin ear" for the latter) ... it's quite a scary movie. There are scenes where there are "ugly/creepy insects" and all kinds of things "jumping out at you" that honestly may be too intense for the pre-teen crowd.
Then, with ticket prices the way they are, it would be a shame to shell out $50 to take the family to the movies only to have one's 8-10 year old (or their 8-10 year old friend) starting to cry and wanting to go home. So my recommendation to FAMILIES would be this: If you have relatively small kids (8-10 years old) who'd want to see this movie, DON'T "invest" a lot of money in going to see this movie in the theater. The more kids you'd be taking of that age group, the more likely it'll be that one or two of the kids would start crying and want to go home. Instead, if that's the age group of your kids then wait for the film to come out on DVD and watch it at home.
All that being said, I do think that the movie tells a very good "family oriented" "scary story" ... the kind that a good uncle would tell his nephews/nieces in the evening during a summer family get-together somewhere.
So what then is the setup of the story? In the immediate aftermath of some financial crash, the father of two small girls (the father played by Nikolaj Coster Waldau) having shot his wife and his accountant (apparently the father had been some sort of an investment banker or was otherwise a fairly rich man) returns home (in suburban Richmond, VA) and hurriedly puts the girls in his car driving off with them "into the mountains" apparently to flee.
But as they get up into the mountains, there's snow and he's driving too erratically and too fast. Inevitably they slip off the road with the car rolling down a fairly long slope into the forest before it crashes into some tree. The airbags work, so no one's hurt, but now they find themselves far from the road. No matter, the father (remember he's fleeing) gets the two kids out of the car and together they hobble down further into the forest until they happen upon a rickety, old, apparently abandoned cabin. There the father sets the girls, the older named Victoria (played by Megan Charpentier) the younger named Lily (at this point just a toddler played by Isabelle Nélisse), in front of a fire, and now with for the first time in a while having "some time to think" he becomes very distraught. In his despair, he decides to shoot the kids and then himself. However, before he could pull the trigger on the first child, something very strange happens that saves her and her sister (and prevents him from causing them further harm...)
FIVE YEARS LATER, searchers, hired by Jeffrey, the father's rather "bohemian/artistic" brother (also played by Nikolaj Coster Waldau) who apparently had no other use for his richer and "until he snapped" more responsible brother's money other than putting it to use to find out what happened to him and his children, finally stumble upon the rickety-abandoned cabin and discover the two girls, alive (!). However, the two girls are found in a very feral state, scampering around on all fours, covered in mud, barely communicative in a human sense and having apparently kept themselves alive eating huts, twigs and berries.
The two girls are promptly taken back to Richmond, VA and placed in a special psychiatric unit presumably at some state university/medical center there.
Eventually a custody hearing is held. Jeffrey, the girls' uncle (and their father's brother) would like to take custody of them. But there is a dispute. Their mother's family would like to take custody of the children as well (After all, the two little girls' father murdered their mother...). But they live across the country and Jeffrey is actually closer kin and lives in Richmond. However Jeffrey's life is kind of a mess. Again, he's been an artist, living in a small, cluttered apartment with his rather intimidating, dyed-short raven haired, tattoo-down-the-length-of-her-arm "rocker" girlfriend named Annabel (played marvelously by Jessica Chastain, OMG what a talent she is! She's up for the Oscar, of course, for her role in Zero Dark Thirty !) who's actually not at all excited by the prospect of becoming an "adoptive mother" of two very troubled wilder-kids. (Talking a bit about the situation with one of the other women in her punk-rock group, the friend just tells her: "Dump him..."). Still she doesn't want to "dump" Jeffrey and decides to give it a shot...
However, there's still the hurdle of Jeffrey and Annabel's apartment. It's way too small and cluttered to pass any serious adoption inspection. Dr. Dreyfuss (played by Daniel Kash), the state's psychologist on the case of these two little girl's would really like to see the girls stay in Virginia as well (so that he could continue "to study" them...). So he comes up with an idea. There was a house near the University that his department uses for "case studies." Jeffrey and Annabel could be given the house, "rent free," for them and the girls while the girls were still in need of psychiatric supervision. Eyes-rolling, raven-haired/punk rocker Annabel now being asked to "become a suburbanite..." goes along with this as well ... even if she does not like it.
And actually neither do the girls. Victoria, who is older and still does remember human speech is a little more accepting of the move. Lily, the younger one, who largely speaks in gibberish and continues to sleep under her bed with a leafy twig in her hand rather than sleep on a far more comfortable mattress, clearly hates it.
But there it is and the story goes from there... The question that's on every adult's mind is ... of course ... how did those children survive (or even learn to survive) out there in the often snow covered woods of Virginia for five years? The children, especially Lily, refer to someone they call "Mama." But who is this "Mama"? Well that's what the rest of the film's about ... ;-)
I'm not going to say much more because I think I've done my job in setting up the story. I would repeat however that the story becomes a very good rendition of a very good "spooky story" that one could hear "around the campfire" at an "outdoor family gathering" as it gets dark on some lazy summer's eve.
Is it too scary for little kids? I do believe that the PG-13 rating is appropriate. And as I hint above, the difference between hearing this story (or even watching this film) "at home" and going to see it at the movie theater is that "at home" when the kids start getting "too scared" one can "tone the story down" as one tells it (or just turn off the video if one is watching it). But in the movie theater, once one pays for admission one is stuck...
Again, Mama is a great "spooky story" but if one's kid is 10-or-under, it really may be too much for them to see in the theater.
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