Now, normally I'm not the first guy to raise his hand when asked about seeing up and coming Horror movies. It's not that I frighten easily, I just dislike what the genre has to offer the majority of the time. To put it mildly, I would argue that 90% of Horror films today are just derivative slasher gore fests that contribute nothing to the spectrum of film or to the glorified genre they choose to inhabit. To make it brief, they just don't deserve to be seen. As a horror enthusiast weaned on the classics of Universal and Hammer as well as far more disreputable producers, I’ve been dismayed at how the genre has gone to the dogs — and the mindless zombies, motiveless poltergeists, and indestructible psycho killers in remakes nobody needs.
I’m sick of all the unhappy endings with their nihilist final shots confirming that evil can never be put down, partly because a lot of people no longer buy the idea of closure in our senselessly violent culture, mostly because studios need their demons evergreen for those cheap, income-generating horror franchises. I’ve started to avoid horror movies now. The last horror film I went to see in theaters was "Let Me In" back in 2011. So when I chose to go see "Mama", its previews had aroused my attention for three distinct reasons: The first was that Guillermo Del Toro served as the films executive producer, secondly the concept of the story captured my imagination, and lastly the film starred Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
Any film that garners Guillermo Del Toro's seal of approval is good enough for my money. Del Toro has always had an affinity for telling tales of folklore. This fact is made plain by some of his previous films such as "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Hellboy 2". Always his films have had an otherworldly quality to their stories; so why his attention was attracted to the plot and concept of "Mama" is no mystery to me. The film is written & directed by Andrés Muschietti and this marks his third outing as a filmmaker. Muschietta brings with him a warmly welcomed flair for visual storytelling. The images captured on-screen in "Mama" are as beautiful to behold as they are unsettling. As much as you may want to look away from the screen, to do so would put you at a disadvantage. The cinematography by Antonio Riestra is phenomenal and really lends itself well to the subject matter of the narrative.
As the story unfolds, we begin with a small prologue. Like something right out of the opening pages of a Grimm fairy tale this opening title card lends itself well to opening up the audiences imagination and preparing us to step into the world of "Mama". The plot of "Mama" sets us in the lives of three families torn apart by tragedy. Now to keep descriptions as basic as possible, the story of mainly follows the characters of Lucas and Annabel. These two protagonists are brought to life by Actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) and Actress Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Help). It's my hope that these actors need no further introduction. I don't recall if the film said if Lucas and Annabel were married, but clearly they are in a relationship with one another. Lucas is a struggling artist and Annabel plays bass guitar in a grunge band. Chastain is mind-blowingly attractive in short black hair, Ahh!
Getting back on track, Lucas has been dividing his time between being an artist and a boyfriend with other activities. For a while, he's been trying to locate the whereabouts of his lost twin brother, Jeffrey, and his two nieces, Victoria and Lilly. The family of three went missing after Jeffrey allegedly murdered his wife and ran off with his two daughters. Lucas has given his best effort to locate them, by orchestrating a state wide search, that till now has borne no fruit; but when two trappers come across a cabin in the woods, long since abandoned, what they find inside is beyond anybody’s darkest imaginings. Brother Jeffrey’s two little girls remain alive. To say that they are well however, would be a stark contrast to their actual state of being.
Left alone in the wilderness has turned the two girls feral and devoid of all societal norms. They skulk around the cabin on all fours like rodents and communicate to one another through chirps and screams. The incredible discovery of the children brings to Lucas a new found sense of responsibility, one in which Annabel is not all that ready to accept. The couple hires on the help of a child psychotherapist to help reintroduce the two young girls into society. Lucas and Annabel take on the roles of adoptive parents. Soon, strange occurrences begin taking place with the children and Annabel and Lucas start to realize that Victoria and Lilly aren’t the only new residents they’ve welcomed into their home. Something else is trying to tuck their girls in at night, and it isn’t human.
“Mama” has many high points in its overall presentation, as well as a few lows. On the outset, we receive another terrific leading performance by actress Jessica Chastain, of which we’ve grown accustomed to over the last few years. She really nails her character of Annabel. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, her co-star, does a fair job as well, but unfortunately he has far less screentime despite his seeming importance as a character in the overall plot. The narrative of “Mama” is rather solid. There are a few moments that some viewers may find convoluted or confusing; for me, I didn’t have any trouble following the story or suspending disbelief when it was necessary.
The cinematography in “Mama” is beautiful. A lot of time and effort was put into capturing some really great photography in this film. This helps to create some really original and suspenseful moments on screen. The only real complaints I had about the film were the creature effects and the climax. I know that these sound like two really big complaints, but allow me to explain. The climax of the film is fine, but it seems to go on for longer than it should. Also, events during the sequence seem to come off a little too conveniently, i.e. characters showing up out of nowhere; that sort of thing. It’s hard to explain and not give away plot points. When you see it, I believe you’ll understand what I mean.
The second aspect of the film that gave me pause, was the presentation of “the creature”or of “Mama”. Her development is fantastic and really imaginative, but it took me a good amount of time to get used to seeing her. I would argue that she got revealed too soon and not given enough opportunity to really frighten the audience. At times she even looks a little cheesy due to the use of CGI. This is just my opinion and it shouldn’t be taken too closely to heart. I’m certain that others will feel differently and accept the creature right off the bat without complaint or argument. If you’ve seen the trailer, then the title character is, as I’m pretty sure you know, a poltergeist, and certainly one of modern cinema’s eeriest. She’s a spidery thing with a face that’s a dry-rotted mask of pain and rage. It’s awesome!
I’m just going to leave it at that. On the whole “Mama” serves up a fair amount of scares for those not bereft of old school horror inclinations. At times, events and dialogue in “Mama” can be a little cheesy and on-the-nose, but that’s half the fun of well realized horror. The best part of “Mama” is that there is no derivative sequel in sight and I believe if the film had had an R rating, then it could have been truly terrifying. It is however a great film and one that deserves to be seen by all; horror fan or not.