Movie Review: ‘Mama’ Features Shades of Newtown

MamaReel Rating: 3 out of 5 Reels
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements
Released in Theaters: Jan. 18, 2013
Genre: Horror
Runtime: 100 minutes
Directed by: Andres Muschietti
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nelisse, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet
Official Site: Mama

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Here’s what I don’t get. A topical movie like “Promised Land,” which stars cuddly Matt Damon and John Krasinski and has a few f-bombs, gets an R rating. Whereas a seriously creepy movie like “Mama,” about an unhinged ghost with issues, which features one f-bomb along with a few other swear words, gets a PG-13 rating.

Seriously, the MPAA ratings system is messed up. If I was in charge of the world, I would have dropped a few of the f-bombs out of “Promised Land” and given that a PG-13 rating. And while “Mama” probably doesn’t deserve a true R rating, it’s sure a heck of a lot closer to an R than “Promised Land.”

But, as they say, I digress. “Mama,” as you know by now, is a horror movie. I’m not a big aficionado of horror movies, but in the big scheme of things, it probably contains enough jump-out-of-your-seat scenes to be a not-bad horror movie. But as with “Jack Reacher,” “Mama” suffers from a bad case of poor timing.

To refresh you, remember in my “Jack Reacher” review I noted that it probably would have been a better movie had it been released at any other time than the exact same time as the Newtown tragedy. ‘Jack Reacher” was rife with gun violence. The images of those kids was fresh in our minds.

There’s not so much gun violence in “Mama,” but there are small children in peril throughout the movie. In the first few minutes, there’s even a scene where a gun is pointed at a child’s head just inches away, and the shooter is seconds away from pulling the trigger. I can guarantee that no one will watch this movie and not think about those precious kindergartners who lost their lives in Newtown. Frankly, I’m surprised the film wasn’t edited at the last minute to cut that scene.

Let’s talk about the plot. The story, expanded by sibling filmmakers Andy and Barbara Muschietti from their 2008 short, begins with a deranged, panicky dad grabbing his two daughters — ages 1 and 3 — putting them in the car, and driving maniacally out into the wilderness. The car crashes over an embankment, the dad and kids find an abandoned cabin in the woods, and things take a dive from there. Without giving away too much, I’ll just say that the kids end up alone in the cabin for five years. Well, not quite alone. There’s a ghost taking care of them. Sort of.

Anyway, back in civilization, the dad’s brother Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has been searching for them for five years. Lucas’ girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain), is a bass player in a rock-and-roll band who has no ambitions of being a mother. But when the girls — Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and her younger sister Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse) — are found alive in the cabin, Lucas and Annabel find themselves being parents.

Jessica Chastain stars in Mama

Not an easy task when the girls are like wild animals and a creepy ghost they call “Mama” (Javier Botet) tags along with them. As the movie progresses, Lucas and Annabel figure out that “Mama” is indeed a real entity who’s taken up residence within their walls, makes the lights flicker, invades their dreams, plays with the kids, and sometimes represents herself as moths.

Look, just because you put Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain in a movie and have Guillermo del Toro produce it doesn’t mean it’s going to be a great movie. “Mama” has some good special effects, and there are plenty of scenes that make you jump out of your seat.

But the plot is uneven. We get one glimpse of why the kids’ dad was acting erratically at the beginning, and then it’s never mentioned again. The kids supposedly survive on cherries in the woods. Ok, I’m from Michigan and grew up on a cherry farm. You can’t grow cherries in a dense forest in the middle of winter. I guess Mama was just growing them out of thin air or something.

And there are other things that make you smack your forehead in disbelief. Like the fact that characters insist on visiting abandoned cabins in the dead of night. They’re just asking for trouble. And if you see something creeping out of a wall in your house, you might want to, oh I don’t know, run.

And then there’s the ending. Well, I won’t go there, in case you end up seeing it. I just felt like they could have done more with not only the ending, but the whole movie. It’s really more about the special effects and chilling moments than the story.

One interesting note is seeing Chastain in something besides all of those dramatic “Zero Dark Thirty” images we’ve seen over the past month. Here she has a butch haircut, tattoos and a goth-girl wardrobe. But even in a non-memorable movie like “Mama,” you can tell she’s a gifted actress capable of morphing into any role.


Sex/Nudity: An adult couple kiss and start to undress each other in a bedroom, but they’re interrupted. No nudity, but the female character dresses in tight t-shirts with some cleavage showing.

Violence/Gore: Not much blood is shown, but lots of spooky and creepy scenes. Two young children are left alone in the woods, and they’re in danger throughout the movie. While riding in a car with their dad, he drives maniacally, even though the older child yells at him to stop. Their car careens over a steep embankment and they end up in an abandoned cabin in the woods. A gun is pointed at a child’s head at close range, and the trigger is nearly pulled. A scary ghost watches over the kids, but also terrorizes the adults in their lives. The ghost causes a man to fall down a steep stairway and end up in the hospital. Secondary characters are killed. Lights flicker, and the ghost appears to live within the walls of a house. The children draw semi-gory drawings about their childhood.

Profanity: One “f*ck” heard in a voicemail message. Other language includes “sh*t,” “hell,” “ass,” “butt,” “crap,” “oh my God,” “shut up,” and Jesus Christ” used as an exclamation.   

Drugs/Alcohol: None.

One Reel – Even the Force can’t save it.
Two Reels – Coulda been a contender
Three Reels – Something to talk about.
Four Reels – You want the truth? Great flick!
Five Reels – Wow! The stuff dreams are made of.


2 responses to “Movie Review: ‘Mama’ Features Shades of Newtown”

  1. […] my review of “Mama,” I noted that while more could have been mined from the story, Jessica Chastain’s character is […]

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