Wednesday, January 23, 2013

R for feaR, or "If I were 13 I'd piss my pants"

The most sustained period of dread I've ever experienced in a movie theater was back in the mid-1980s, when I saw Poltergeist during what must have been a re-release. (I was young, but there was no way I was only eight, when the film had its first run in 1982.)

What I remember was of course fear, but more than that was the feeling that I couldn't escape from it -- that it surrounded me. It was not only the current fear, and the fear I'd already had, but the sense of the fear I still had waiting for me. I remember feeling a distinct sense of relief during the sequence in the middle of the night, when nothing is terrorizing the living hell out of the family and they just sit there, bonding in hushed whispers. I knew for at least five or ten minutes, I could relax.

The PG-13 rating did not yet exist when Poltergeist came out, but I really wish it had been there to save me. I was too young to see Poltergeist, even if I now consider it the top horror experience of my long and distinguished career.

Just as today, I think the R rating should have saved some 13-year-olds who weren't much dissuaded by Mama's measly PG-13.

Simply put, this is a scary fucking movie. At times, anyway.

But movies are not rated based on how likely they are to scare you. Movies get an R because of explicit sex, violence or language. (Which means that this post has already done enough to earn an R.) Mama has none of these things, but it can still scare the living shit out of a person.

A person over 17, methinks.

It makes me wonder whether the MPAA follows the letter of its own laws, but not the spirit.

If the point of a rating is to prevent children from being traumatized by things they shouldn't see, then the MPAA needs to give itself the leeway to be more flexible. I didn't think you'd ever see me advocating more stodginess on the part of the MPAA, but here I am.

The MPAA needs to have a sort-of sniff test about what should get an R. Yeah, I know they've got generic descriptors like "intense images" and "graphic images" and "adult content," but do they use them? It would seem like Mama would have been a perfect chance to do so.

You probably want to know at this point why I think Mama is so scary. Why don't I let the short film that Andy (Andres) Muschietti wrote and directed, before expanding it into a feature, speak for itself:

Were you a little chilled by that? Were you a lot chilled by that? Do you think at age 13 you'd want to watch that?

Now imagine a whole movie of that. And imagine feral children who scamper across the ground like spiders.

I suppose that Mama is not nearly the only example of a disturbing horror movie that got the lenient PG-13 rating, which provides almost no obstacle to maximum potential box office grosses, but it's the first movie I've seen that I remember causing me to wonder whether it wouldn't be just too much to handle for the average 13-year-old. And don't forget that those younger than 13 are almost certain to see it. The PG-13 rating is as much a guideline as anything, and I'm sure 10-year-olds are finding their way into this movie.

Let me pause in my prudish stance to assure you of something: I am not in the least critical of Mama itself. In fact, Mama scared me like I haven't been scared in the theater in some time. Even if the film weren't exceptionally crafted and acted, that alone would prompt me to give it a full recommendation.

I just wonder if the nearly 40-year-olds of 2040 won't be wondering whether they should have seen Mama when they did.

Then again, if they loved it as much as I (ultimately) loved Poltergeist, maybe that won't be a bad thing.

Up and running

Mama is the first movie I've seen released in 2013, which means I've just finished creating my two new Microsoft Word documents devoted to the films I see in 2013.

Always a fun moment. Glad to be back on the horse after putting 2012 to bed.

The Chastain Wing

Upon coming out of the theater where I saw Mama last night, I noticed that the only other movie playing in that wing of the theater was Zero Dark Thirty.

Making that the Jessica Chastain Wing of the theater.

And this wing shows you just how much this woman can really do. If you popped back and forth between these two theaters, you'd get the same terrific cheekbones and the same determined chin. But the Chastains you'd see would be entirely different.

In Zero Dark Thirty, you get Maya, an intensely focused CIA officer who is hellbent on finding the world's most wanted terrorist. She's headstrong and she plays with the big boys, but there's something hesitant about her, a softness at her core that leaves her not-so-secretly squeamish at what she and her government have to do to find Osama bin Laden. She's the consummate professional and she dresses the part, her fiery red hair acting as the sole sartorial hint of her rebelliousness.

In Mama, you get Annabel, a tattoed rock chick whose dark brown hair is cropped short with bangs at the front. She plays guitar in a hard rock band that might dabble in metal, though she wears Ramones t-shirts, tipping off her punk influences. She's tough and unsentimental, yet she demonstrates the same seriousness of purpose as Maya -- she won't abandon her boyfriend (boyfriend only!) when he decides to adopt his two nieces, who have spent the last five years living in a cabin in the woods.

Damn, can Chastain act.

Don't read this section if you haven't yet seen Mama

But then come back and read it once you've seen the movie. Don't forget!

It's a pretty common tactic to end a horror or thriller with the wounded survivors huddled together and finally safe, having survived their ordeal, knowing on some level that what lies ahead of them will be comparatively smooth sailing.

Not in Mama.

Oh yeah, the movie ends that way. But the future sailing hardly seems likely to be smooth.

For starters, you've got the minor detail that one of the two sisters dies. Although it's not spelled out in so many words, that's what the ending implies, and you have no good reason not to believe it. So, there's that.

But then what about the other dead bodies?

The therapist who had focused his entire career on the two feral girls has been killed, and so has their aunt, who actually fought their uncle (a brother, not an ex-husband) for their custody. How are you going to explain that to the cops, since there isn't a shred of evidence of the corporeal spirit who actually did the killings?

Add to that the fact that their uncle, who survives the ordeal, is the brother of a man who was wanted for murdering three people five years earlier, and was widely considered to have had a mental breakdown. This guy and his punk rock girlfriend are still going to be able to keep the surviving girl, even though the events that transpired (including the death of one of the girls) would have only confirmed the general suspicion that a judge was wrong to leave the kids in these people's hands in the first place?

So yeah, good luck with rest of your lives, folks.

2 comments: said...

See this is exactly the kind of film I make the other two guys review. This looks creepy as hell and your review has only convinced me more to side under the bed from this one.

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