A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mama is a horror movie starring Jessica Chastain and produced by Guillermo Del Toro. It's very light on blood and gore, but there are lots of powerfully scary, spooky images, as well as scenes of young children in danger. Language is light (with one use of "f--k" and about three uses of "s--t"), and there's one brief scene of adult kissing and sensuality. Mama is a bit more ambitious than other horror films, and many horror-crazy teens will be able and eager to see it. But some of the movie's themes around motherhood and caring for children are a better fit for adult viewers.
What's the story?
Black-haired, raccoon-eyed rock 'n' roller Annabel (Jessica Chastain) lets out a happy "whoop" when she discovers that she's not pregnant. But her boyfriend, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), is an artist who's spent five years searching for his missing brother and two nieces. And when the nieces -- Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and her younger sister, Lily (Isabelle Nelisse) -- are suddenly discovered alive in a cabin in the woods, Annabel and Lucas find that, ready or not, they're now parents. Unfortunately, a creepy ghost known only as "Mama" -- complete with silvery hair, crooked features, and bent limbs -- has been looking after the girls and has no intention of letting them go. Can Annabel discover the ghost's secret before "Mama" gets really mad?
Is it any good?
Mama seems to be more about special effects and solving mysteries than about truly exploring fertile -- and spooky -- territory. Producer Guillermo Del Toro's name in the credits may bring up memories of powerfully scary movies about lost girls (Pan's Labyrinth), but MAMA was directed and co-written by Andy Muschietti, a newcomer who adapted his own short film to feature length. Clearly Muschietti has some interesting themes to explore, such as the fact that motherhood is scary and powerful, and he has created two fascinating polar opposites in Annabel and the ghost of "Mama."
Unfortunately, rather than expanding and deepening these themes, the filmmakers fill in the blanks with a bunch of shop-worn old horror routines. Characters can't stop making silly choices, such as visiting the creepy cabin in the woods at night rather than during the day. And a sinister aunt who wishes to take the girls away could have been a much more satisfying addition.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Mama's violence. Do horror movies have to be gory to be scary? How did the movie's spooky scenes affect you?
What makes Mama scarier -- or less scary -- than other horror movies? How much spooky stuff does it show, and how much is hidden?
Do you think the children in the movie appreciate or understand the lengths to which the two "mother" characters care for them and love them? What messages is the movie sending about parenthood?
How does Annabel come to appreciate the role of motherhood? What is she like before that?
- In theaters: January 18, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: May 7, 2013
- Cast: Jessica Chastain, Megan Charpentier, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
- Director: Andres Muschietti
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.