Mama is a 2013 Spanish-Canadian horror film co-written and directed by Andrés Muschietti (credited onscreen as Andy Muschietti) and starring Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. The film, produced by J. Miles Dale and Bárbara Muschietti, with Guillermo del Toro serving as executive producer, is based on the Argentine Muschietti’s Mamá, a 2008 Spanish-language short film of the same name that captured del Toro’s attention.
The film deals with the story of two young girls abandoned in a forest cabin, fostered by an unknown entity that they fondly call Mama, which eventually follows them to their new suburban home after their uncle retrieves them. Originally set for an October 2012 release, it was released in theaters on 18 January 2013.
On the onset of the 2008 financial crisis, a distraught man, Jeffrey, kills his business partners and estranged wife before taking his children, three-year-old Victoria and one-year-old Lilly, away from home. Driving dangerously fast on a snowy road, the car slides off the road, down the mountain and crashes in the woods. Surviving, Jeffrey takes the children into an abandoned cabin and builds a fire. Planning to kill his daughters and commit suicide, he holds a gun to Victoria’s head, but a shadowy figure drags him away and snaps his neck. Victoria turns around, but cannot see what is going on due to her glasses being previously taken by her father (so as to obscure his gun in plain sight from her bad eyes). The girls, huddled by the fireside, are tossed a cherry by the mysterious figure.
Five years later a rescue party, sponsored by Jeffrey’s identical twin brother Lucas, finds Victoria and Lilly alive, but in a feral state after years of isolation. The girls are put in a welfare clinic under the psychiatric care of Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss. They make reference to “Mama”, a maternal protector figure. When Lucas tries to communicate with the girls, they are initially hostile, but Victoria recognizes him after he gives her a pair of glasses and she can see him properly. Dreyfuss agrees to support Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel’s custody claim against the girls’ maternal great-aunt Jean Podolski. In exchange, they must move into a clinic-owned house and grant Dreyfuss continued contact with Victoria and Lilly for research purposes.
While in bed with Lucas, Annabel is startled by the appearance of a shadowy, monstrous figure in their doorway. While investigating, Lucas is attacked by “Mama” and is put into a comatose state. Annabel, who has no relation to the girls and is uncomfortable being around them, finds herself left alone to care for them. Although Annabel makes progress with Victoria, she finds Lilly hostile. Alarmed by nightmares and Victoria’s warning about Mama’s jealousy, Annabel asks Dreyfuss to investigate. He initially believes “Mama” to be an imaginary alter-ego of Victoria, believing she had to take on a parental role to take care of Lily for five years; however, his research corroborates Victoria’s story that Mama is an aggrieved mother separated from her child and brings to light the story of Edith Brennan, a mental asylum patient in the 1800s.
Dreyfuss recovers a box containing an infant’s remains, and first encounters Mama while interviewing Victoria. Annabel has a nightmare revealing Mama’s past; Edith Brennan/Mama was sent to St. Gertrude’s Asylum, her child was taken from her and given to nuns. She escaped the asylum, killed a nun and stole back her baby. Fleeing pursuit, she jumped off a cliff, but her child was snagged on a branch and killed on impact while she drowned. Annabel realizes that Mama doesn’t realize her child died from hitting the tree and has taken on Victoria and Lilly as substitutes.
Lucas regains consciousness after a disturbing vision of his dead brother Jeffrey telling him to go to the cabin in the woods and save his daughters. Annabel and the girls are visited by Jean, who is alarmed by the girls’ bruises which come from their still animalistic behavior, but tries to get Annabel investigated for abusing them. Victoria’s growing closeness with Annabel makes her less willing to play with Mama, unlike Lilly.
Dreyfuss visits the cabin at night to investigate – and attempts to communicate with – Mama. After his flashlight stops working, he uses the flash of his camera as a light. He is suddenly attacked and killed by Mama. Finding Dreyfuss missing, Annabel steals the girls’ case files from his office. She learns that Edith and Mama are the same person, while Lucas leaves the hospital to search for the cabin. Shortly after making a breakthrough with Lilly, Annabel and the girls are attacked by a jealous Mama, who attacks Annabel, kills Jean and spirits away the children. Annabel regains consciousness and hurries off to save the children with Lucas.
The couple spot the children on a nearby cliff, where Mama is preparing to re-enact her fall, taking Victoria and Lilly with her. When Annabel offers Mama the remains of her child, Mama transforms into her beautiful form. However, when Lilly (who, being younger than her sister, remembers only Mama as her original parent) calls out for her, Mama reverts to her more monstrous form and takes the girls again, nearly killing Annabel and Lucas (but refraining from doing so mainly because Victoria clearly shows she cares about them). Lucas is knocked unconscious, but Annabel clings to Victoria who asks to stay with her instead of leaving with Mama, despite Lilly’s pleas to come with her. After a tearful farewell, Mama and Lilly leap off the cliff, turning into a shower of moths when they hit the branch that originally killed Mama. The film ends with Annabel and Lucas embracing Victoria, and Victoria noticing a moth with bright blue wings (as opposed to Mama’s moths, which were all dark) landing on her hand, indicating that Lilly is still with her in some form.