Mixed Feelings About ‘Mama’

Last night I saw Mama and was actually surprised–it was better than I thought it would be. It has compelling characters, a psychologically-driven story, and it actually gave me the willies on multiple occasions, something I have not experienced from a horror film in quite some time. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some failings, though.

The young girls give chilling performances. Their situation as feral children was especially intriguing to me, as I fancied myself a linguistics major for a stint in undergrad, and it was the gripping stories of Genie and Victor that really drew me to the field. Their lives reveal that we are all mere animals, products of our upbringing, and demonstrate the incredible difficulty of altering those behaviors we learn in our formative years. Mama reflects this to a certain extent, as the younger girl, Lilly, retains much of her animalistic characteristics and behaviors, yet the older girl, Victoria, is able to go back to being essentially a normal child (despite a spirit wanting to be her mother) after a short period of time–something that I find a bit unlikely.

Annabel (Jessica Chastain), while a bit of an exaggerated cliché of a punk rocker chick at least offered a new kind of protagonist for the classic woman-caring-for-creepy-children horror trope in that she actually has a personality. In addition, I find her quite relatable, as I share in her taboo desire to not have children (::gasp:: What kind of awful woman doesn’t want to be a mother??). Best of all, she injects some much-needed bluntness and humor into the film, as she is completely straight with the girls, showing that she doesn’t like their situation either, and when they do something ridiculous she asks them “Are you shitting me??”

Her boyfriend Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), on the other hand, is one-dimensional and mysteriously absent for most of the movie. He literally adds nothing to the story, except for being the girls’ uncle and therefore the one who was so dedicated to finding them in the first place. This is unfortunate, as his presence during the various eerie events could have contributed a different perspective on the situation.

Mama herself is far scarier when she isn’t seen, and a disappointment when she is. She offers an interesting backstory, complete with an explanation of why this spirit still lingers and her motivations for doing what she is doing, a complete necessity, in my opinion, for any horror film or bad guy in general. How it ends, though, is incredibly weak, and without giving away any spoilers, I must simply say two things: Mama doesn’t follow traditional lore of resolving a ghost’s unfinished business, and it attempts to pull at your heartstrings after almost no emotional set-up.

Have you seen Mama? What did you think of it? Did it meet your expectations? Check out this lucid and well-reasoned review, which talks a little bit more about the weaknesses of this film as well as its missed opportunities.

‘Mama’ Has Its Moments… and Its Miscalculations
Bill Gibron @ PopMatters

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Director Andres Muschietti has taken his celebrated short and expanded it out over 100 unnecessary minutes. The result screams for editing instead of eliciting shrieks from the audience.

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‘The Following’: Makings of a Macabre Masterpiece

The macabre horror of The Following is perfectly set up by Marilyn Manson’s dark rendition of “Sweet Dreams,” an eerie tune that serves as the bookends for last night’s season premiere episode. James Purefoy menacing performance is superb as the charming professor and serial killer Joe Carroll, and Kevin Bacon’s controlled performance is believable as his counterpart, the utterly flawed ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy.

The mix of horror and romanticism in this show highlights the two different sides of Carroll, who can be utterly disarming and alluring in one moment, and frighteningly violent in the next. There are some truly terrifying sequences of stalking and murder that are more characteristic of cinema than television, but therefore bring a heightened intensity to the suspense of the show.

But it is Carroll’s intellect that brings sophistication to The Following. Similar to Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, Carroll turns Hardy’s interrogations around, and it is the prisoner who reveals himself to be the one in control, the maestro conducting this symphony, with both his adversaries and his many followers–his cultists–mere instruments in his orchestra.

Check out this article on how the literary basis of Carroll’s obsessions translates into the format of the show, both in the sophistication of its premise and references, but also in its structure. What did you think of this much promoted series premiere?

Everybody’s Looking for Something in ‘The Following’
Liz Medendorp @ PopMatters

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The menacing tune of Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams” cover sets the tone for The Following, a macabre story of murder, mystery, and vengeance. The much promoted premiere, airing 21 January, provides chills and thrills, but it is this series’ complexity, grounded in literary influences, that may lead to a long and exciting run.

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