June 27, 2013

MAMA and an Unexpected Bit of Symmetry

Starring Jessica Chastain, Nikoaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Carpenter, Isabelle Nelisse, Daniel Kash. Directed by Andy Muschietti. (2013, 100 min).

As I’ve documented numerous times, my youngest daughter, Lucy, is my little Friday night horror buddy. We’ve been watching all kinds of scarefests since she was about 7, sometimes to the chagrin of my wife. Even though Lucy is now nine years old and fairly seasoned in many sorts of cinematic mayhem, Francie still expresses occasional concern over what we watch, and usually insists I preview anything I plan on subjecting our child to in advance. I comply most of the time, but usually only if said-movie is R-rated. That policy has occasionally come back to bite me in the ass, since a movie’s rating generally has little to do with how scary it is, especially to a kid. I brought home Insidious one time and, though the movie is bloodless and sex-free, it scared the living shit out of Lucy. While that movie resulted in me spending several nights on the living room sofa because she wanted to sleep with Mom, Lucy loved Insidious and is now fully-expecting me to take her to the theater to see the sequel this fall.

Anyway, about once a week I venture down the road to a tiny store that sells used video games and movies. Sometimes I find good discs really cheap. One of those was Mama, which Lucy was actually more excited about than the movie I brought back especially for her, Brave (after watching it myself, I can kind-of understand. It’s good, but doesn’t hold a candle to Pixar’s greatest films).

Lucy had seen the trailers for Mama on TV a few months before and really wanted to check it out. So did I. Did I expect something as terrifying as The Exorcist or The Descent (the last movie to truly scare me)? No, but since Mama was getting decent reviews above and beyond the typical horror fare that’s usually dumped into theaters in January, my interest was piqued. Still, catching horror films during their theatrical runs is a dicey endeavor, so it wasn’t worth the risk (there’s nothing worse than paying 12 bucks each for a horror movie that isn’t scary). But for an eight dollar Blu-Ray…why not?

Once again, Francie was concerned that we were gonna watch it sight-unseen. I assured her I’d shut it off if it started freaking Lucy out the way Insidious did. Lucy even promised she’d sleep in her own bed afterwards, no matter what.

"Ahhhh! Homework!"
Mama surprised both of us. We were expecting the usual jump-scares and ominous signs & symbols which come with modern supernatural fare. And indeed, this tale of a psychotic spirit who saves two abandoned toddlers from starvation, then becomes murderously overprotective once they are rescued and brought back to civilization five years later, serves up all the usual horror trappings. We didn’t expect the melancholy tone permeating the entire film. Yeah, the ‘Mama’ character is scary, but we also kinda sympathize with her, as well as the two misguided children she’s trying to ‘nurture.’

The film comes to an inevitable-but-sad conclusion (which I won‘t reveal) that ultimately raises Mama above the fray, and when I looked over at Lucy, tears were running down her little cheeks. The movie has more than its share of jolts, but packs an unexpected emotional wallop at the end, which Lucy found harder to deal with than the scares. I wasn’t prepared for watching the first movie which truly made my daughter cry.

I remember the first movie that made me cry. It was called Silent Running, a sci-fi film about a lone conservationist (Bruce Dern) onboard a spaceship housing what’s left of the world’s wildlife. Only he understood the enormity of his moral task, forced to kill his shipmates in order to save what could not be replaced, with only the help of a few robots (two of whom develop such endearing personalities that their fates are heartbreaking). His last suicidal act of conservation made me feel the same way Lucy did at the end of Mama…logical, yet hard-to-handle without bursting into tears.

Here’s the really weird part…while Lucy and I were watching Mama, there’s a scene where the main character, Annabel (Jessica Chastain), is lying in bed watching a movie. That movie is none other than Silent Running. I don’t claim to know the filmmakers' agenda in choosing this particular title (other than it’s also a Universal Picture), but it does seem like more than a coincidence they’d choose a tearjerker disguised as sci-fi to be featured in a tearjerker disguised as horror. Whatever the case may be, the fact that the first film to make Lucy cry features the first movie to make Dad cry has an interesting bit of symmetry.

The next day, Lucy went to her mom to reassure her that Mama was rated PG-13 because of, and I quote, “ultimate sadness.”

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