Director: Andrés Muschietti
Writers: Neil Cross, Andrés Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, Daniel Kash, Jane Moffat
The movie Mama, with Guillermo Del Toro as Executive Producer and starring Jessica Chastain as Annabel, is a “Spanish-Canadian” horror movie recently released in theaters. The trailers provide the basis for everything we need to know: two young girls (3-year-old Victoria & 1-year-old Lilly) are abandoned in a cabin for years to fend for themselves until they are finally found and brought back to civilization to live with their uncle Lucas and his punk rocker girlfriend Annabel. In classic horror movie style, when the girls come back they of course bring something with them. At first believed to be a figment of their imagination to cope with being alone for so many years, mysterious occurrences and noises gradually lead Annabel to suspect that Mama may in fact be very real.
At first glance, Mama seems to have the potential to be a good horror film in the same vein as Insidious and Sinister. And for the most part, it does manage to succeed in this! With a few possible exceptions, it never quite reaches the scare-levels of the aforementioned movies, and instead lurks in an area of creepy horror. “Creepy horror”, as I see it, is a level that can be seen as sufficiently scary to a younger audience while being spooky enough to keep desensitized adults like me invested.
The creep factor is maintained throughout most of the movie with occasional jump-scares thrown in, and is actually emphasized not by the monster but the girls. While certainly not on the same level as Pierce Gagnon (aka Cid from Looper), both of the girls manage to give performances that leave us convinced that they did in fact spend the majority of their lives without any adult human contact. Especially Lilly, who was literally raised by her sister and the mysterious Mama for 5 years. What happens to them and how they change through the course of the movie also manages to prove that these characters are in fact dynamic, and accurately portrayed by the young actors.
Even Annabel (a character that proves Jessica Chastain is hot with both red and black hair) is a well constructed character that goes on her own journey throughout Mama. In fact, I praise her as being one of the few legitimately smart characters to be found in any horror movie. In many films like this, the adults are painfully ignorant to everything going on around them until the final act when the monster/ghost/killer/evil toaster is finally revealed. Instead, Annabel is legitimately curious as to what is really going on, and makes very smart decisions based around the situation at hand. My favorite example of this involves the closet in the girls’ bedroom. You’ll see what I mean when it happens.
Unfortunately, Mama has three very significant flaws. First of all, when you finally do see Mama, it is completely done in CGI. This wouldn’t be a huge issue if it were done well, like Smeagol/Gollum, however the design is not scary at all. Weird looking, sure. Not the least big horrifying when you see its face for more than a few seconds though.
Second, the logic behind the film and certain characters is often very flawed and tends to make no sense whatsoever. It’s one of those situations where, you try to piece together the events leading up to the credit roll and find yourself asking “why did [so and so] do this?” or “why did [that one person] say [something pertaining to the plot]?” At least that is what my wife and I were doing on our drive home, and a fair portion of the film’s logic quickly started to crumble.
Finally, and most damning, the end of the film pulls an “Insidious” and fails horribly at its ending. The third act starts off holding its own despite the full reveal of now-not-so-spooky Mama, but takes a massive nosedive in the final scenes. For me, the ending not only defies any feasible logic but throws the majority of what actually happened between every character and the relationships established right out the window.
While flawed, Mama is a movie that my wife and I both authentically enjoyed a fair deal until the poorly done ending. I do recommend seeing it if you’re a fan of horror films, but you may be more satisfied if you wait until you can either rent or stream it on Netflix.
I give Mama: 3/5
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I’m Papa Kenn, and I’ll see you next week when I release my review of Zero Dark Thirty!
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