Inspired by a haunting short story, "Mama" is a film that reveals the deep and extraordinary power of a mother’s love. When a tragic twist of fate leaves two children orphaned in an abandoned house after their parents are killed, they are brought to live with their uncle and his rock-and-roll girlfriend. As the settle into life as a family, the family soon realizes that they are not alone.
The bond between mother and child is a very powerful symbol in this film and one which is painted from multiple perspectives. When we are first introduced to the children in the movie, they have just lost their mother and are fleeing with their father into the woods. Shortly thereafter, the father vanishes under mysterious circumstances and the children, Victoria and Lilly, are left alone – or are they? As we witness time passing in a haunting, melodic dance, the pictures reveal that the children are not quite alone. When they are discovered in the house five years later, the children have become wild, and they keep referring to a mysterious being known only as Mama.
There are two maternal figures in the film: the ghostly entity known as Mama (Javier Botet) and Annabel (Jessica Chastain) the girlfriend of the children’s Uncle Jeff. When the children are first rescued, “Mama” is the only maternal figure they have known, and although no one else can see her, the bond between Mama and the girls (and especially Lilly) is incredibly powerful. For Mama, her connection to the children reflects the pain of a deeper tragedy: the loss of her own child. Following her untimely death, Mama’s child was stolen from her. Haunted by her loss, Mama latched onto Victoria and Lilly and became their surrogate mother when they were abandoned by their father. When the children were discovered and taken to live with their uncle, Mama followed them, unable or perhaps unwilling to severe the bond that she had created with the children because her heart could not endure the pain of losing another child after her own child was taken from her.
Annabel is the stronger of the two women. While initially she does not embrace the idea of motherhood, her maternal nature is manifested when Annabel begins to realize that Mama’s presence is with them in the house and her jealous attachment to the girls will only be relinquished when the child that was stolen from her has been restored. As she is left alone to face an entity that she can’t see or understand, Annabel must discover her own strength as a mother if she wants to protect the girls from Mama’s wrath.
While Victoria is able to create a bond with Annabel’s character and eventually chooses to love her over Mama, Lilly, the younger sister, maintains the strong bond with Mama. Victoria was older when the girls were forced to live in solitude, and so she was able to resurrect the memories of the family she had before the girls found Mama. Because Lilly was so much younger when the girls were abandoned, Mama is the only parent she has really known and so the bond between Mama and Lilly was much deeper and ultimately that same bond was what allowed them to remain together.
“Mama” is a movie that illustrates the power of a mother’s love and how the strength of that love can both heal and destroy. The casting is exceptional, particularly in the case of Jessica Chastain as Annabel. The story while a bit confusing at times, creates a satisfying combination of suspense tinged in sadness and allows the audience to understand the emotional essence of a truly unique character.