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Film / Mama

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Mama is a 2013 horror film produced by Guillermo del Toro, and based on a Youtube short film by Andrés Muschietti, who also directed it and helped produce and write it.

When little Victoria and Lily's father Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) kills his business partner and his estranged wife, he flees with his daughters to parts unknown. They end up lost in the woods and find themselves in an abandoned cabin, where Jeffrey, at the end of his rope, attempts to do to the girls as he did to their mother. However, he's whisked away and killed by a blurry figure, and the three year-old Victoria and her one year-old sister are left to fend for themselves in the wilderness.

It's five years later, and their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, again) has spent himself into bankruptcy trying to find any trace of his missing family, with only his girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain) —the bassist in a small-time rock band— for support. When a search party finds them somehow alive, regressed to a near-feral state, he fights tooth and nail to bring them home so they can begin the healing process. But after getting custody of them, it soon becomes clear that there was something taking care of them in the woods... and it won't let them go so easily.


This movie contains examples of:

  • Abnormal Limb Rotation Range: Mama/Edith. Justified due being a ghost, and one that died from a long fall.
  • Adaptation Expansion: A 100-minute movie based on a three-minute Youtube video, and it works. Helps that they had the same director.
  • Adult Fear:
    • There's Jean attempting to steal the girls away from Lucas and Annabel in a custody battle. The fear of a cruel relation or in-law stealing your children away from you in a legal battle and having the power to prevent you from seeing them is all too real.
    • There's also of course the all-round fear of someone else forcibly taking away your children from you never to be seen again generally, which exists among all the non-child main characters.
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Annabel pre-Character Development.
  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Averted big time. In fact, Lucas shows more concern to his nieces than grief for what happened to Jeffrey.
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  • Animal Motifs: Moths.
  • Antagonist Title: The titular character is the Big Bad.
  • Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence: One implied fate of Mama/Edith and Lily.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Mama kills Jeffery just as he was about to commit murder-suicide on his daughters, and well after he had already killed his partners and wife.
    • Jean, who had been trying to take custody of the kids since the very beginning due to Irrational Hatred of Lucas, was probably intended to be this.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Zig-Zagged; despite Annabel's and Lucas' efforts to save both the girls, Mama succeeds in killing Lily and making them Together in Death but she's forced to concede to giving up Victoria to Lucas and Annabel's custody. It's a Tear Jerker Bittersweet Ending for everyone all round.
  • Beard of Evil: Inverted: Lucas has a thick beard compared to his clean-shaven twin brother Jeffrey.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Although Victoria comes to love Annabel and leaves Edith for her, Edith refuses to let go of Lily and the latter is likewise too attached to her to trade her for Annabel, and happily goes with whom she considers her real mother. For her part, Lily's unconditional love releases Edith from her grief and allows her to move on. But one way or another, Lily's dead.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Victoria's vision is very poor without glasses: at the beginning of the movie she isn't even able to recognize her father being murdered because Mama's figure is so blurry.
    • Victoria's first step toward recovering from her feral state happens when she receives a new pair. Edith later destroys them in a fit of jealousy, as to her they represent the moment she started to lose her precious daughter.
  • Butterfly of Death and Rebirth: At the denouement, the moths make way for bright, colorful butterflies.
  • Call-Back: At one point in the film, Annabel grabs the belt of Victoria's bathrobe and asks what's wrong, and Victoria pulls away from her. At the climax of the film Annabel, having been physically drained to the point that she can't even walk, grabs hold of the same belt of Victoria's robe so she won't go with Mama/Edith. This time, Victoria stays.
  • Casting Gag: Casting Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as the father and uncle of somebody is rather funny if you consider that he's also the father and uncle of somebody in his most well-known role in Game of Thrones, but in a very different way.
  • Character Development:
    • Anna starts off distant, with barely any affection for the girls themselves, and only takes care of them for Lucas' sake. As she earns their trust, and they come around to her in turn, she starts to love them and care for them like a real parent.
    • "Mad Edith Brennan" aka Mama goes from being a psychotically jealous, obsessive ghost with barely more personality than an animal to being able to let Victoria go when the latter chooses to stay with Annabel. Yes, even the ghost has character development.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Dr. Dreyfus points out that Victoria's age when she was lost will make it easier for her to recover. At the end, she's the one that's able to resist Edith's influence.
  • Children Are Innocent: Too innocent. Victoria seems to know that there's something supernatural about Edith, but she's never learned that this is something she should be afraid of, so she isn't. In Lily's case, she's unable to see Edith as anything other than her real mother, and prefers her to any kind of human contact.
  • Color Motif: Purple. Lily wears a purple blanket when they arrive at the house at the beginning of the movie. Most of the children's drawings also depict her in purple. The baby that Mama/Edith is carrying when she jumps from the cliff is wrapped in a purple blanket as well.
  • Convenient Coma: Mama's/Edith's assault puts Lucas in a coma, forcing Annabel to take care of the girls on her own.
  • Cool Uncle: Lucas is an Extra Cool Uncle who already displays Papa Wolf tendency towards his nieces at the start of their disappearance.
  • Creepy Child: Victoria and Lily when they're found are not only near-feral, but incredibly creepy and prone to jump-scares. Victoria eventually gets better, but Lily - who was a year old when they were lost and knows nothing but the cabin, her sister, and Mama - does not.
  • Creepy Doll: The one that the girls kept at the cabin. Whether they made it themselves, or Mama/Edith made it for them, is left up to the viewer.
  • Creepy Long Fingers: Mama, as much of her anatomy is unnaturally long and gnarled-looking.
  • Daylight Horror: Many of Mama's appearances happen in broad daylight.
  • Deadly Hug: Crushing people in her arms in Mama's preferred killing method.
  • Death of a Child: The original short film ends with the ghost/monster killing one of the girls and making her into another creature like her. The adaptation has an example of this as well in that Lily dies with Edith in much the same manner that Edith's original baby died.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Lucas gets taken out of the action pretty early, if you're wondering why Annabel's actress has top billing. Even when he wakes up and attempts to get back into the action, he's taken out again for the climax.
  • Department of Child Disservices: Averted. Dr. Dreyfus ensures that Lucas is able to take custody of the girls, despite his financial situation. Jean tries to get child services involved when she suspects abuse is taking place, but Mama kills her before she gets the chance to do that.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Jeffrey realizing the magnitude of what he's done (to his wife,) what he's about to do (to his daughters,) and his own inability to stop himself from doing it.
  • Determinator: Lucas in his five-year search for his missing nieces, which pays off but also bankrupts him. Annabel as well at the end.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: A recurrent theme which the film seems to be tying to motherhood and the two girls. Mama is an Undead Barefooter, whilst Lily who is more resistant than Victoria to being reintroduced to human contact prominently remains a Barefoot Loon compared to her sister. Annabel, who becomes a Mama Bear to the two girls and their new maternal guardian at the end, often walks around the house barefoot.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Subverted. The dog does seem to notice Mama's presence, but never reacts to it as an evil one. In fact, he seems perfectly okay with her.
  • Flight, Strength, Heart: Mama's powers include flying, mangling people with her arms and creating cherries.
  • Funny Background Event: There are times when Annabel goes around the house doing chores, and the girls are seen playing with Mama/Edith and thoroughly enjoying themselves.
  • Ghostly Goals: Mama/Edith wants nothing more than to care for and protect her children. It seems like the answer to helping her move on is to reunite her with her dead child, but when she is she's utterly crushed because it's only evidence of how she couldn't protect her baby. When Lily calls for her and Mama "rescues" her from Annabel and Lucas, that's what finally sets her free.
  • Grand Theft Me: What Edith does to Jean in order to take the kids back to the cabin. It proved fatal when Edith left.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Mama/Edith isn't just protective of her children, she's also viciously jealous and does not want anyone intruding in her little family's happiness.
  • Headphones Equal Isolation: Played with. When Annabel wears them to listen to the interview recordings, it would seem that either she'd get attacked or she'd be oblivious to the girls' plight when Edith comes for them. But she hears their screams well enough to come running for them when needed.
  • History Repeats: Edith's child was taken from her. When she came to take it back, she was hounded and chased back to a cliff, where she tried to jump into the river to escape but a branch halfway down ended up killing both of them. Mama takes her new children to the cliff as well in the climax; after she takes Lily back, they both jump down and hit the exact same branch, exploding into moths and butterflies.
  • Hope Spot: After being given the remains of her dead child, Edith briefly appears appeased (if crushed), taking the form of her normal human self. When Lily begins to cry for her, she loses all interest in (the skeletal remains of) her own child and turns back into a hideous revenant.
  • Hulk Speak: Lily rarely speaks but when she does it's like this.
  • Idiot Ball: After Dr. Dreyfuss discovers real evidence of a Mama/ Edith, the first thing he does is go to the cabin in the woods, alone, at night, to take pictures of her. Made even better when one remembers he does this right after upsetting Victoria so much that she appears to actively call on Mama, if the girl's Kubrick Stare and the splotch that appears on the wall where she's looking are any indicator. Not only is the doctor trespassing in Mama's home, he's doing it after having made her angry.
  • Jump Scare: Mama constantly makes very sudden arrivals to the viewer; the girls are also fond of doing this, moving superhumanly quickly or taking advantage of flickering lights to get from one area to the next.
  • Karma Houdini: Edith ends up living in eternal bliss with her new daughter, just like she always wanted.
  • Knight Templar Parent: Mama; she genuinely wants to take care of her children, but she's unable to tolerate even the idea of someone else taking care of them and will kill to get them back.
  • Love Redeems: Lily's love ends Edith's haunting.
  • Macabre Moth Motif: Moths follow Mama wherever she goes.
  • Mama Bear:
    • Mama/Edith is fiercely devoted and protective of her children, and will kill and assault anyone that gets between them and her; those who even threaten to do them harm meet the most grisly ends possible. Even when she's bound by her word not to kill Annabel, she still shields the girls with her own body against the perceived threat. Though sometimes it looks a lot like chasing/attacking "her" children. This is a dark example of the trope, however, as Mama's Mama Bear tendencies are what lead to the deaths of Lily and her original baby.
    • Annabel, once she comes to care for the girls on her own terms, likewise becomes an opponent to be reckoned with, clinging to them even after Edith nearly mauls her to death.
  • Marionette Motion: Mama's movement is erratic and unnatural. So is Lily's, for that matter.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • It's easy to miss, but Lily has the same name as Edith's dead baby, and ends up sharing her fate.
    • The name Lily has special connotations: lilies are associated with death and the restoration of innocence upon death.
    • The name Brennan can mean "burning." Edith was insane before she died, spent a hellish period of time as a ghost after failing to safely escape with her baby, and is ultimately confronted with the fact that her actions led to the baby's death during the climax. The look on her face when she cradles those tiny bones says it all...
  • The Mentally Disturbed: Edith, before her death.
  • Morality Chain: The girls serve as this to Mama, particularly Victoria, who made her promise not to hurt Annabel.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Annabel has very few scenes where she's not showing cleavage. She also walks around her house barefoot quite a bit.
  • Mythology Gag: The original Jump Scare of the short film is included, up to and including one of the sisters shutting the door on the other while they flee. The outcome of this scene is different, though.
  • Nephewism: Lucas and his girlfriend are the legal guardians and Parental Substitutes toward Lily and Victoria after their parents' detahs years earlier. Mama, their supernatural adoptive parent, is the main antagonist.
  • Nice Mean And Inbetween: Mama and the two girls form this trio. Victoria, as the girl who re-adapts most to human contact and is concerned and scared of her piblings getting hurt by Mama, is the Nice one. Mama, as the psychotic Knight Templar Parent who will attack and likely kill anyone good or ill who gets in the way of her and her children, is Mean. Lily, being more hostile to contact with other humans when reintroduced to society but lacking any violent tendencies and eventually making progress bonding with Anna; is Inbetween.
  • Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book: A typical example, but the kids paint the walls with pictures of themselves as they grow up, showcasing Mama's/Edith's constant (and violently protective) presence.
  • No Peripheral Vision: Annabel occasionally can't see anything not directly in front of her.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: Initially Dreyfuss believes that "Mama" was just an Imaginary Friend that Victoria and Lily created to cope with their situation. It turns out that she's not quite so imaginary...
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: A variant. Lucas is the (implied) twin brother of the girls' father while Jean is their mother's sister. The two are at each others' throat for the two kids' custody.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Jean, as she's implicitly a very classist individual who thinks that her greater economic standing makes her a more qualified parent, even though she did nothing to recover the girls.
  • Official Couple: Lucas and Annabel.
  • Offing the Offspring:
    • Jeffrey at the start attempted to do this to both his daughters (with the implication he intended to turn the gun on himself afterwards), but Mama killed him before he could pull the trigger on Victoria.
    • In life, Mama / Edith indirectly and directly caused her baby's death when she took it back, then jumped with it from a cliff to prevent the mob that was chasing her from taking it from her.
    • At the climax, Mama attempts to repeat the above instance with Lily and Victoria so they'll be Together in Death; likely to prevent anyone taking them from her and because she knows that beyond that she'll soon lose them to Annabel and Lucas if she doesn't do something. Victoria avoids this fate when Mama concedes to giving her to Annabel; Lily doesn't.
  • One to Million to One: When Mama hits the same tree branch that killed her at the end of the movie, she splits into hundreds of moths.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Despite Coster-Waldau's best efforts, his Danish accent occasionally slips through.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Mama/Edith takes most of her design from the Mexican Urban Legends of La Llorona note  with a helping of Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl (though too different from the traditional onryo to be considered one.)
  • Parental Substitute: It's one of the central points of the film, and brings no end of Heartwarming and Tear Jerker by the ending.
    • Mama is one to Victoria and Lily, taking them in as her own after their father murders their original mother and Mama has killed him. Whilst Victoria knows that Mama isn't entirely natural and is dangerous to anyone else that the girls might get close to, she still loves her for all she did for the girls, as demonstrated when they say goodbye in the ending. Lily however, due to being so young when she and Victoria went missing, can't recognize Mama as anything other than her real mother.
    • Lucas, who becomes Victoria and Lily's legal guardian when they're found, is a caring Papa Wolf towards them, and to Victoria is a substitute for her deceased father. Victoria mistakes her uncle for her father when she first sees him with glasses — it's implied this forms a big step in Victoria readjusting to human contact, and it's also uncertain if she ever becomes aware that the man with her father's face now caring for her is actually her uncle Luke (having not clearly witnessed Jeffrey's death).
    • As her Character Development progresses, Annabel increasingly bonds with the girls, successfully making a breakthrough with the more therapy-resistant Lily, and by the end she's become a full-blown Mama Bear to rival Mama.
  • Pater Familicide: Initiated in the beginning by Jeffrey when he kills the girls' mother (offscreen,) but when he attempts to finish the job, Edith cuts him short.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Mama playing with the girls at their new house, even lifting Lily high up into the air while the latter laughs her heart out. This shows that she's not just there to protect them, but also that she and the girls really do enjoy each other's presence.
    • When Annabel brings in Lily from the cold and warms her hands with her own breath, Lily stops hating her and opens up enough to like her because Mama, despite all her love, can never give her warmth.
    • Mama sparing Annabel's life because she promised Victoria she wouldn't hurt Annabel.
    • Despite murdering his business partners, his wife, and attempting to do the same to his daughters, Jeff's ghost wakes his brother up to urge him to save the girls.
  • Product Placement:
    • "I need the number for Enterprise Rent-A-Car."
    • Annabel drinks Heineken beer in one scene, with the bottle practically right up to the camera lens.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Mama/Edith conveys her presence and shares her tale of woe via these; Victoria and Annabel thus learn her blood-soaked origins and come to sympathize with her. Lucas, for his part, is pulled out of his Convenient Coma by a dream of the ghost of his dead brother, who begs him to save his daughters.
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: The girls are implied to have eaten insects and dead animals during their time in the cabin, in addition to cherries.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Lily and Victoria are substitutes to Mama for her original baby, which died along with her and which she was separated from upon death. Interestingly for this trope, when the bones of mama's original baby are returned to her and her spirit finally has a chance to rest, she ends up rejecting her original child in favor of holding onto the two Replacements whom she looked after for five years.
  • Rule of Symbolism: There are several references to Edith's real baby, hanging from a tree branch in its sling, which liken it to a moth's cocoon. At the end of the film, Edith enshrouds herself and Lily in a cocoon-like shape, which crashes into the same branch, and bursts into thousands of butterflies.
  • Shown Their Work: The effects the five years of isolation had on the children, particularly Lily, are this. Lily refusing to wear shoes, refusing to sleep on the bed, refusing to sit at the table, crawling around on all fours and the way she was half-bent forward (as though she wanted to crawl) and clinging to her sister all show ways in which feral children have been shown to act. In the pictures shown during the opening credits, Victoria is drawn standing, but eventually she is shown to have dropped to all fours (like her sister, who never walked on two feet).
  • Sickening "Crunch!": Mama's kills are often accompanied by these.
  • Snow Means Death: Everything in the prologue is wintry with crisp snow, during Jeffery's Pater Familicide rampage.
  • Spanner in the Works: Had Lily not cried out to Mama, there might've been Earn Your Happy Ending instead of the Bittersweet Ending.
  • Suddenly Voiced: When Lily calls out to her in the end, Mama actually quietly speaks out in a normal voice.
  • Supernatural Floating Hair: One of Mama's defining features.
  • Time Skip: The actual story begins five years after the prologue.
  • Together in Death: Edith and Lily.
  • Tragic Villain: In life, Mama was a woman named Edith Brennan; she was sent to an asylum, with her baby taken from her and given over to nuns. She escaped and slaughtered a nun to get her baby back. Pursued to the edge of a cliff, Edith attempted to jump into the water to escape but hit a tree branch halfway down. The branch killed and snagged the baby in a sling, while injuring Edith and leaving her to drown in the river. Her spirit searched the woods for centuries to find her baby, not realizing that it was already dead and distressed that she didn't find it in the river with her. She then came across Victoria and Lily about to be murdered by their father, and she takes them in to fulfill her need to protect "her" children. When Annabel finally shows her that her baby is dead, Edith is devastated.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Lucas and Jeffrey, who are both played by Coster-Waldau. It's pretty much universally assumed despite a lack of official confirmation that the brothers are twins.
  • Vampiric Draining: One of Mama's powers is the ability to suck the Life Energy out of people.
  • Villainous Rescue: When Jeffrey is about to shoot Victoria in the back of the head, Mama appears right at the last possible second and stops him.
  • The Voiceless: Even in flashbacks to when she was human Mama never speaks, just grunts and groans. She says one word in the entire movie, "Lily", and it's a pretty normal-sounding voice.
  • Wild Child: The girls, as a result of spending five of their formative years in a cabin in the woods with nothing but Mama to take care of them. Victoria recovers more easily since she'd already learned a lot of vocabulary by the time they were lost, but Lily has a harder time of it.
  • Worthy Opponent: Near the end, Mama/Edith seems to start regarding Annabel this way.
  • Yandere: Mama/Edith is a parental version rather than the usual romantic one.

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