Victoria and Lily’s father shot and killed their mother before kidnapping the young girls and running away. His plans were interrupted when his speeding caused him to crash his car, and he and the girls were forced to continue on foot. Luckily, they found a deserted cabin within the snowy woods nearby, and took shelter in it. Unable to deal with his grief, Victoria and Lily’s father convinced himself that they’d all be better off dead, and pointed his pistol at Lily’s head. Suddenly, he was attacked by a vague presence, and Lily was saved. This supernatural protector came to be known as Mama.
Victoria and Lily were missing for five years before they were found in their remote cabin. Lucas and Annabel, a couple in their mid-thirties, have agreed to be the girls’ new foster parents. Lucas was brothers with the girls’ father, so he feels an obligation to raise the children and try to heal their many wounds. Annabel, on the other hand, seems to be pretty satisfied with where she is in life. She’s playing bass in a rock band, she’s dating Lucas, and everything seems to be just the way she wants it. One part in the movie shows her negative results for a pregnancy test, which she responds to with unrestrained joy. So when the children enter the picture, and she’s forced to avert her agenda, it’s a challenge just to be a mother, let alone a mother to two children who were neglected for several years.
The couple had only been living with the girls for a short while before Lucas had a freak accident that landed him in a coma. With her boyfriend unable to care for the children, Annabelle was forced to step into a role that she was already at odds with: the mother. This newfound position, combined with the stress of raising two primal children, only made the strange happenings that had been occurring as of late that much harder to deal with.
Mama had an intriguing plot that was different and creative. It reminded me of Oxana Malaya, a feral girl from Ukraine who was raised by dogs. Her alcoholic parents weren’t equipped enough to deal with childrearing, and they abandoned Oxana at an early age. Left in the streets, she resorted to mocking the movements of the dogs around her, and came to resemble a feline herself. In her early twenties, she was crawling around on all fours, barking, growling, and acting just like a dog. She eventually assimilated back into society, but certain things like language are still a challenge for her, and they might be something she’ll have to deal with for the rest of her life.
Although Mama isn’t based on a true story, I liked how it used the idea of feral children adjusting back to urban life with an unknown entity alongside. Mama‘s plot was advantageous to the film’s success. However, other factors led to its downfall.
The appearance of the ghost Mama looked very fake. When her entire body was finally shown in her ghost form, she seemed fabricated and silly. When Mama was shown in a dream as a memory of a real person, she was much creepier than she was as a ghost. Mama would’ve been scarier in her human form at all times. Plus, it would’ve given the film an edge, because the audience would be contemplating whether or not Mama was a real woman staying with the children, or a ghost trapped in time.
The best part of Mama was the youngest daughter Lily. Her animalistic behavior was strange and unsettling. At times, her primitive movements and awkward social interactions proved to be more unpleasant than the ghost that haunted her. Isabelle Nêlisse was a great choice to play Lily, and I’d like to see her in more horror films in the future.
Mama portrayed an interesting dynamic of two young sisters who were left alone in the woods for most of their developmental years, and included a satisfactory cast and director. Where it failed was in the overuse of CGI that ruins so many big budget horror movies, and the ludicrous ending that removed any fear that the film had acquired in the first place. Mama is entertaining enough to keep you watching, but the jump scares and clearly artificial ghost aren’t frightening enough to haunt you after you leave the theater.