The most universal word found in all the diverse forms of human culture is Mama. The ‘M’ sound is among the easiest for the immature mouth a larynx to produce and the majority of languages utilized by people around the globe and throughout history incorporates this most fundamental sound into a universal sound of contentment and the word used to denote the traditional primary caregiver, mother. As the most primary and intrinsic relationship of any normal human’s lives a deviation or corruption of this bond and produce dire consequences, something appreciated very early on by the story teller with a prediction towards horror. Psychopaths and heinous series killers popularly exemplified by fictional characters like Norman Bates or their monstrous counterparts in real life as demonstrated by Edward Gein could all be attributed with the popularized semi-diagnostic term of having ‘Mommy issues’. The importance of a solid maternal influence especially in those crucial years of early psychosocial formation and development have been the subject of many scholarly studies such as those conducted by B.F, Skinner and Jean Piaget but also more on pint for the consideration here, a very popular theme and psychotic etiology used as a foundation for a plethora of horror movies. The one specifically examined here is simply and quite aptly entitled ‘Mama’.
This film is constructed on a theme popularized in the ninetieth century, the feral child. At a time when Darwinist principle were being transposed from biology to the ax= associated disciples of sociology, anthropology and developmental psychology a child raised devoid of the inference of human influences were a matter of great interest and speculation. Wild ‘feral children’ reportedly human children raised by wild animal such as a wolf or apes became successful side show exhibitions for amusement, quickly making its way to the zeitgeist of horror fans. In order to establish the setting as contemporary the initial protagonist, Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has become unhinged due to the ruination of his fiscal stability as a result of the economic collapse of 2008. His response is unconditionally extreme; murdering his business partner, killing his estranged wife and kidnapping their children and Lily, three and Victoria who has just pasted her first birthday. Jeffry was following the text book profile of a family annihilator planning to murder both of his children before committing suicide. His plans are disrupted by a figure cloaked in shadows coming up behind Jeffery snapping his neck saving the children.
This sets of the foundation upon which to construct the story to follow. One and three years of age are at the cusp of socialization of the normal personality. It is sufficiently immature to survive on their own requiring them to bond with some manner of parental figure. This is idea as a premise for initiating this particular variation of horror. We move ahead in the time line to the present day, five years from the critical initial events. Jeffery’s twin broth Lucas (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) commissions an extensive search for his missing brother and nieces. The efforts are fruitful and the children are found albeit filthy dirty, in meager tatters and more animalistic in behavior than typical children of their ages. They are placed in a facility managed by child psychologist Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash), to expedite their reintegration into human culture. Overcoming the initial trepidation of the children by connecting with them through a pair of glasses previously owned by Victoria some progress in manifested. Some legal concerns cloud the horizon with custody in contention. Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) have petitioned for guardianship but their claim has been challenged by a maternal great-aunt Jean Poldolski (Jane Moffat). The Doctor sides with Uncle Lucas offering a suitable home in return for permission to continue to study the girls. Paramount in his clinical interest is the mysterious person the girls refer to as ‘Mama’. The shadowy figure is revisited in an inopportune interruptus of an intimate moment by appearing in the doorway. The subsequent attack places Lucas in a coma and punk rocker Annabel caring for the girls. Although the doctor’s initial assessment was ‘Mama’ was little more than a construct of Veronica’s mind as part of a coping mechanism but further investigation lends credence to Mama as a tangible woman, one most likely suffering the loss of her own child. The suspicion, albeit exceptionally realistic as it would appear is Mama is actually Edith Brennan, a patient of an insane asylum in the ninetieth century. This substantiated to some degree when Dreyfuss uncovers a box containing the remains of a child.
Like any well-constructed psychological thriller the screen writers, Neil Cross and Andrés Muschietti took considerable care in the construction of the foundation and the elaboration of the premise. This shifts the onus of the film away from the blatant dependency on graphic sex and overt torture that has been diluting the genre for a number of years now. The director, and co-author, Muschietti is relatively new pursuing both aspects of filmmaking. Perhaps this has worked in his favor here by not taking the easy road following the graphic technique of so many of his contemporaries. Working within an environment that precluded gratuitous nudity and the ample quantities of gory entrails and stage blood the writers and director had to concentrate on the traditional methods of scaring an audience. This film comes across in a fashion reminiscent of the old fashion ghost stories traditionally used to regale young campers gathered around a summer fire. The story begins with a quicker pace than was ultimately maintained. Many might conclude that this is a short coming in the presentation of the film. To the contrary it is one of its better qualities. The film demands and deserves the respect of paying attention to the details of the story as they unfold.
There is a degree of suspense achieved here that has become uncommon in modern horror movies. There is a lot to be said about a movie that exhibits careful planning and expert execution. Although admittedly rough around the edges the talented cast manages to pave the way to an enjoyable film as the creative minds behind the camera continue to sharpen their stylistic prowess and develop the experience necessary to move upward as forces to reckon with within the genre.
Matriarchal Secrets: The
Visual Effects Of Mama