I was so surprised to see that Mama was only playing in three theaters in New York on opening weekend. A horror movie in January—it’s almost guaranteed to be number one at the box office given the popularity of the genre and people who are sick of the serious, highbrow Oscar fare currently crowding theaters. Why, I thought, would execs hobble a movie’s chances by only allowing it to show at three theaters in NYC on its opening weekend? I’m puzzled, and it seems that the theaters that did show Mama tried to jack prices up even more—at least one of them.
I went to see Mama at the Court Street Theater in Brooklyn, the closest theater to me. Because of the movie’s limited release, I was afraid it would sell out so I bought my ticket ahead of time online, which padded the ticket price by another $1.50. And that was on top of a $17.50 admission because I was supposed to be getting an RPX experience (which is apparently better sound and seats). I didn’t really notice a difference unless squeaky leather seats count, and that’s an experience I don’t want to pay for.
Mama is a very simple story on the surface—almost too simple to justify the hundred minutes of play time. Two little girls, Victoria and Lilly, are at the mercy of their parents, who apparently have had some sort of meltdown. Their father says their mother is gone, packs them into the backseat of his car, and drives them on icy roads through the woods. There’s an accident and the girls are left on their own in the woods where they live for quite some time as feral children until people, who their uncle has employed, discover them. Their uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays both father and uncle) and his girlfriend Annabel are barely making ends meet in a studio apartment with their freelance jobs, and all of a sudden they find themselves in charge of two disturbed girls, who have been removed from society long enough that they’ve lost their language skills.
I believe the best thing about this film is the ladies. The shape-shifting Jessica Chastain plays Annabel, a dark-haired punk with tattoos who is so not ready to be a mother. The two young girls who play the feral children Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) are also very effective, especially Nélisse. She has some moments that are downright eerie, considering that she only says about four words in the movie.
I think where the movie falls short is style over story. I see a lot of loving care dedicated to the CGI and atmosphere, which leaves the story feeling thin and underdeveloped. The movie is beautiful to look at, but sometimes my mind wandered. A few images and details are revealed that are never followed up on, and I didn’t feel like they were big enough to just be ambiguous. While the witchy ghost provides a few scares, I never found her a real threatening presence because there’s not much to her story. Instead, I puzzled in the dark about what had originally happened to the two girls—what was going on in the beginning of the movie with the father and mother, which led to them being stranded in the woods in the first place.
I still enjoyed myself. I love watching a horror movie in the theater because of the audience participation, which didn’t disappoint at the Court Street Theater. There was a man with a big, throaty laugh that he let loose after the scariest moments, and the woman behind me was really getting into it, too, saying things like, “That’s funny. I’m going to make that my message,” and “She needs to be killed right now.” I think I would have liked Mama better had it not been an RPX experience. There’s a big difference between $12 and $17.50.