The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday May 28th


Movie short: Mama

“I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.”

No, that’s not your mother speaking. If you’ll indulge the hypothetical, that’s actually you criticizing “Mama” — an old-fashioned ghost tale that teases viewers with flashes of greatness it never manages to fulfill.

After their father murders his wife and commits suicide, two young sisters — Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly DeSange (Isabelle Nelisse) — hide away in a forest for five years.

The girls’ uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his punk-rocker girlfriend (Jessica Chastain) discover the girls and take them in, and then they learn of the ghost woman, called “Mama,” who had been taking care of the girls — and she aims to keep it that way.

But “ghost woman” does not quite capture the titular entity. “Mama” is essentially a floating corpse that’s shriveled and rotted for centuries. She can walk or crawl just as easily as she can hover — but gravity only arrives when it’s dramatically convenient.

The bigger question is: Where did this supernatural spirit come from? Further, of all corpses to animate with murderous instinct, why this one?

In absence of any explanation, the audience can only intuit one answer: Hers was the corpse most freaky-looking.

That much can’t be denied, and it’s also one of the few things this film does right. Of all the creatures to encounter lurking in the shadows or chasing you through backwoods, this grotesque ghost woman will leave you the most number of nightmares.

But instead of mining such gold, the filmmakers put her inside closets and under victims’ beds. A uniquely frightening monster delivers just flat thrills through these hackneyed setups.

The few exceptions are indeed exceptional. Chastain demonstrates the underrated ability of an actress to intensify silence. Her hushed breaths are our hushed breaths; we’re afraid in and of the quiet just as much as she is.

Chastain even carries viewers through the predictable beats packed between each of such exceptional moments. For, as with all disappointments — offspring or otherwise — the film is deft in procrastinating away your time and your high expectations.

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