Whenever I see a movie that I get really excited about, I seek out reviews from professional critics and fellow fans. Often times they will point out things that I may not have noticed and it's exciting to feel connected to someone through art. When I find lots of negative reviews I begin to feel a sort of let down. I wonder if my opinion was "wrong", or why I'm the only one who liked it. Keep in mind; I'm an 18-year-old girl, so I have not yet grown out of such thoughts. I am also not an authority on film. Everything I know, I learnt from reading Roger Ebert and watching lots and lots of movies. However, this movie really stuck with me. I saw it 2 days ago and I still can't stop thinking about it. I decided to take a page out of Ebert's book and explain why I loved it (instead of just saying "it's awesome"). Here's why: 1. The Children: I'm a sucker for kids in movies, especially when they actually get to act like kids. The 1-year-old Lily and 3-year-old Victoria are so beautiful that they tug at your heartstrings without even trying. They were well cast. 6-year old Lily and 8-year-old Victoria were truly phenomenal little actresses. Megan Charpentier (already a seasoned veteran with previous credits including Jennifer's Body, Red Riding Hood, and Resident Evil: Retribution) handles this heavy subject matter with maturity and poise. She manages to balance innocence with experience. She has been traumatized by her past, maybe her heart is a little harder than the average 8-year-old (if it wasn't, she wouldn't have survived all that time), but we still get glimpses of the little girl who just wants a mommy. Isabelle Nélisse is (in my opinion) genius as little Lily. I think CGI must have been used to make her movements appear more animalistic, but a child of her age maintaining such seriousness is riveting to watch. When she plays with her toys, it's like watching an actual feral child in a documentary (I repeat, it is LIKE watching a feral child, not IDENTICAL to).
2. The "Parents": Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau as the uncle (and uncle's girlfriend) of the little girls are very well cast. I was a bit sceptical of Jessica Chastain's "rocker chick" look, but she brings such life and courage to her character that you actually see her as a bass player, instead of a classically beautiful Hollywood star trying to look like a bass player. I had never heard of Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau before this film. I love how much he loves the girls. His caring for them is so sincere and honest. You truly believe that he is the kind of guy who would spend 5 years (and money he doesn't have) on the hope that his nieces might still be alive. He is a loving father figure who doesn't get as much time with the girls as her should (in my humble opinion).
3. Mama: The demon/spirit/ghost/entity/whatchamacallit of Mama was created using CGI and a very tall, thin actor. Many audience members laughed when Mama first came in to full view. I agree that she looked a little funny. Her hair was really weird and anti-gravity (like Mama in the short film) and her face was oddly asymmetrical. However, I think that she was perfect. Just the right amount of creepy and sad. This is one of the only horror movies in existence that causes the audience to feel real sympathy for the evil villain.
4. The Director: I admire Andrés Muschietti for taking so many risks. It is rare to find a filmmaker today who will go against what the audience may want. He didn't use any fake scares; the situation was scary enough on its own. There are brilliant moments of natural humour that were so refreshing. He did not mock his characters or the situation, but he found the string of comedy that was there already and used it to his advantage. How many times have you been having a miserable day, and then just stopped and started laughing about how everything went wrong? That is the humour of Mama.
5. The Story: Part of the reason that I love horror movies is that they aren't bound by the usual visionary constraints of, say, Italian neo-realism films. Tragic stories are exciting and implausible all at the same time. I think that this was a very original take on a story of mother-daughter bonding. Of course there's no such thing as a "completely original story", but there is such thing as a completely original vision. The story affected me very deeply. I'm still trying to come to terms with how it ended.
6. Using Clichés Effectively: There are a lot of clichés involved in making a horror film. There are only so many ways to introduce the plot line of a supernatural being. This genre requires stock characters, and they do their jobs well. They use some of my favourite scare tactics (using a camera as a light source, unexpected appearances by the entity, etc...). Those particular clichés are necessary. Would you really want to see a Jim Carrey comedy where he uses dry humour and no body language? Or a Baz Luhrman film with dull colours and understated characters? Clichés are not always a bad thing.
This is why I loved this film. Agree or disagree, but you can't say I didn't think it through.
Take care, -Hannah