Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
Markus Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Rated PG-13 for violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements
Now playing at Century 20 Oakridge Mall in San Jose, California:
Remember when you were young and your mom told you that if you didn’t treat her well, then she would come back and haunt you from beyond the grave?...No?...Really?! Uhhh, well…directed by Andres Muschietti (NOT GUILLERMO DEL TORO) “Mama” is the newest January horror release attempting to not massively disappoint a wide array of critics. And while (as far as new age horror films go) I thought “Mama” was for the most part pretty effective and will be giving this movie a recommendation, I am also recommending that (for the most enjoyable experience) one walk out of this movie around 15 minutes before the final credits roll, when this film completely falls apart.
There is a storyline here concerning two creepy little girls who are found seemingly alone in the woods (but in fact are being watched over by a jealous ghost named Mama) and are taken in by their estranged uncle and his hard rock, tattooed girlfriend (played by Jessica Chastain) but truthfully the more you pay attention to the quite sappy and overcomplicated plot, the more distracted (much like in last year’s “The Woman in Black”) you will be from the real star of “Mama”, the scares themselves. In fact the parts that don’t work here are the awkwardly clunky exposition and (as I alluded to before) the final 15 minutes when “Mama” becomes once again back-story motivated, with an inexplicably nonsensical and Disney-esque “the ghost must learn her lesson too” ending. And nobody wants to see that. In fact, most of the time the scariest things about some of the great horror movie monsters stem from their unexplained motives; a la, the less we (the audience) knows about the monster, other than it wants to kill and deliver scares, the scarier the movie becomes. Therefore, the back-story behind Mama being a sort of Caucasian version of “La Llorona” would have worked immensely well on scares alone, if not for a need by these filmmakers (Muschietti and writer Neil Cross) to give an overly dramatic character explanation, humanizing the monster and taking all of the wind out of Mama’s sails.
What does work in this movie’s favor are the horror genre visuals which make up a large portion of the middle chunk of this film. OK, so while some of the scares may seem cheap, the Mama “monster” is pretty damn scary. Furthermore, what initially may seem like cheap scares, quickly turn into cheap yet effective scares throughout (clearly exceeding the classic 6 scare minimum). There are even a few rather well constructed horror genre directorial choices that while won’t be classified as scares, will be seen as rather creepy moments.
As for Chastain playing the rocker chick/girlfriend/adopted mother in all of this (with her Misfit’s t-shirt, black nail polish and her many, many bracelets) she gives a performance that while isn’t a cinematic nose dive (the likes of Natalie Portman going from “Black Swan” to “Your Highness”) it is one that can only be described as pretty much that of zero substance. Which is to say, she’s not bad, nor is she good; she is more so wasted in a rocker chick role which will undoubtedly be forgotten in the years to come.
Final Thought: All in all, if you are looking to see a horror (or date) movie that does deliver in the visual scares department and are willing to ignore the annoyingly distracting storyline, then “Mama” may be the movie for you. But if I said it once, I’ll say it a million times, if you choose not to walk out of this movie 15 minutes before it’s over, then don’t come crying to me. I warned you.
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