Movie Review: Mama

This film image released by Universal Pictures shows Jessica Chastain in a scene from "Mama." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)
This film image released by Universal Pictures shows Jessica Chastain in a scene from "Mama." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

I love the rush of physical terror in an otherwise controlled environment -- that brief clutching of the heart that seizes you without actually making you feel unsafe. There were a lot more outlets for this kind of thing before I developed a sensitive lower back (no more roller coasters) and a sense of my own mortality (no more thrill rides in general). Now I just watch a lot of horror movies.

Last night I went to see Mama, starring Jessica Chastain with black hair (spoiler alert: black hair looks sexy on her) and Nikolaj Coster Waldau, who proves to be just as handsome and intrepid as he is in Game of Thrones, though slightly less incestuous (frowny face). Without giving anything away, Mama is about a dead lady ("Mama"), who connects with her surrogate children via vagina-shaped holes in the wall.

To be fair, these holes are more like animate shadows that sort of breathe and spit moths, and the film itself is very scary. I had bruises afterward from jerking around in my seat and knocking my knees on the cup holders, and spent most of the 100-minute thrill ride with my cheek pressed into my companion's neck. Turns out there's not much creepier or more captivating than feral children skittering around like crabs.

Mama is produced by Guillermo del Toro, the guy who brought us Pan's Labyrinth, so you can expect elements of fantasy and tenderness, which make the film moving and thought provoking as well as frightening. Aesthetically and story-wise, imagine something along the lines of Pan's Labyrinth meets Hansel and Gretel meets The Orphan meets The Ring, and you have Mama. Like most horror movies, Mama loses a lot of steam once you get a good, long look at Mama, herself. But in this case, I felt like the deflation was more due to Mama's humanity than it was to bad make-up or cartoonish special effects (i.e., not the same as whatever disappointment you may have felt upon finally seeing the aliens in Signs). By the time we finally see Mama, we understand her -- we feel bad for her -- and empathy will make you less afraid of anybody.

Like Pan's Labyrinth, Mama has a bittersweet and unexpected ending, which you don't often find with horror films. But perhaps my favorite aspect of the movie (aside from the fact that it made me very, very afraid) is that it paints a refreshingly complicated and ultimately poignant portrait of female relationships; the women in Mama are grouchy and loyal and sensitive -- prickly pears, in other words -- which is exciting in my book, since most female characters in horror movies are either brainless cheerleaders or furious punks (easy to kill, in other words).

In conclusion: I give it two thumbs up -- with the actual thumbs jammed into my ears to block out that weird, clicking, drowning noise Mama makes whenever she slithers through her favorite vagina portals. (Don't open the closet.)