Jessica Chastain has been on a roll as of late. She had a big week on the awards circuit this past week (winning a Critics’ Choice Award and a Golden Globe), and one of her latest films, Zero Dark Thirty, finally hit #1 at the box office. All of this was done while she was busy starring in The Heiress on Broadway. Just when you think she was done though, Chastain is back for more. She is also starring in one of this week’s new films, Mama (giving her the chance to not only star in back to back #1 films at the box office but also star in the #1 and #2 films at the box office during this upcoming weekend). Unsurprisingly, Jessica Chastain is the best part about Mama. However, what is surprising is that most of the cast is almost as good as her and this horror film is able to hold it together for much longer than most films of its ilk.
Mama follows Lucas (played by Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) as they suddenly find themselves caring for Lucas’ long lost nieces (played by Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Neslisse). His nieces have reached a feral state after living by themselves in the wilderness for five years. However, as the four begin living together, Annabel begins to realize that they might not have really survived on their own. The film is directed by Andres Muschietti (after Guillermo del Toro thought it would be a good idea to have him take his short film on the same subject and turn it into a feature length film). The film is written by Andres and Barbara Muschietti and Neil Cross (Luther showrunner).
Up until the last ten or so minutes of this film, Andres Muschietti does a fantastic job of bringing this small horror film together. It features some great scenes that rely on bizarre imagery and strong technical work instead of jump scares. While the jump scares do come eventually, they are kept to a minimum as the film quickly goes back to carrying out its plot. However, like most horror films, Mama never really figures out how it should end. While the ending is ultimately a failure, you have to admire that this film tried to go in a different direction. Abandoning its horror roots and adapting a more fantastical atmosphere, the ending at least allows for some great work from its cast even if what occurs doesn’t really sit with what came before it.
The one thing that really brings this film above its horror roots, though, is its cast. Jessica Chastain is fantastic in a film that is far below her pedigree. She seems so at home playing a tough as nails rocker who is uneasy around children despite that being so against type from her normal roles (assuming there is such a thing as a “normal role” with Chastain anymore). Her slow transition to a caring mother figure also seems extremely natural in her hands. While Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is pushed to the side for most of the film’s duration he does make the most of his screentime. However, the real surprise of the film is Megan Charpentier (and to a lesser extent Isabelle Nelisse). Charpentier is really able to handle a lot of dramatic moments while still making it seem like there was a subtle change in her character’s personality from beginning to end. That is a lot to handle for a child actor, and yet she is able to do it.
A strong cast led by Jessica Chastain is able to raise Mama above is horror roots.
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