Mama is in cinemas now
Often the most irrational and idiotic nightmares are also the most terrifying ones. They’re the nightmares that you can’t remove from your memory, no matter how hard you try to.
It’s just like a dream I sometimes have in which the former Tory MP Michael Portillo beats me with a tube of BacoFoil, as he cackles and caterwauls his way through a rendition of “The Look of Love”. It’s the sheer absurdity of it, I suspect, that makes it seem all the more horrific.
Coincidentally, this is also the only way I can explain my feelings on the film Mama, an utterly ridiculous and yet somehow still very frightening horror, which has audiences peeing their pants with laughter before it has them doing the same all over again with fright.
The plot of the film centres on Victoria and Lilly, the young daughters of an financial firm executive, who is introduced to the audience after having recently shot his business partners and his estranged wife. In a mad frenzy, the man returns home, collects his children and speeds off with tears forming in his eyes, as he tries to fathom what he’s going to do next.
After narrowly avoiding a serious car accident, the man eventually winds up at an old abandoned house, where he decides his only option is to commit suicide, but not after first killing his daughters. However, things don’t quite pan out like that, and when the man holds a gun to Victoria’s head, a strange creature attacks him before he has time to pull the trigger.
Flash forward five years later and a team of searchers stumble across the abandoned house. Having all but given up hope of finding the girls, they’re surprised to discover that they’re still very much alive, although living a feral-like existence, eating wild fruit and walking on all fours.
After returning back to civilisation, the girls are kept in isolation before being put in the care of their uncle, Lucas, and his girlfriend, Annabel, who is essentially a character that Janeane Garofalo would have played back in the ‘90s. Lucas makes a living drawing what look like preliminary sketches and Annabel plays in a derivative punk group, making her in particular an unlikely yet well-meaning guardian.
Understandably, spending the last five years living in a creepy house in the middle of nowhere hasn’t done wonders for Victoria and Lilly, as they keep making bizarre references to someone—or indeed something—called “Mama”. At first everybody suspects that “Mama” is imaginary, but then after a series of freak events, a more sinister conclusion starts to seem like a possibility.
Mama is a horrifying creature. She lives in the closet, she changes form and she can glide around the room making no sound if she chooses. Sometimes she’s a dark stain on the wall. Other times she resembles a human-like form. But we’re kept guessing to what she truly is until the last half an hour of the film.
Mama is certainly not without humour. There are many amusing moments, such as when Lilly plays with Mama while Annabel goes about household chores, completely oblivious to what’s happening in the next room. There are also plenty of just plain stupid moments—many seemingly unintentional—which had the audience around me snorting and whispering little witless remarks.
Yet when the scary parts happened the laughs seemed to turn into nervous titters, because part of what the film does well is mixing the completely absurd with the unsettling. It indulges in expected clichés, but always shocks the audience seconds later with some deeply macabre imagery.
There are, unfortunately, countless incidents where the film tries to startle the audience with loud noises or by having something appear on screen rather unexpectedly: making somebody jump doesn’t really mean anything if there’s no suspense to back it up. But more often than not, Mama is a decent, albeit quite campy, horror that draws the audience in with its silliness before devouring them whole with something truly frightening.
Watching with friends will likely provide many laughs, but later on, long after the film has ended, one might find oneself checking underneath the bed, lest Mama is hiding below the mattress.