Man, it can be hard to find a good horror movie these days. Hell, half the fare I usually deal with in this column is awful tripe that should have never seen the light of a projection booth. Terrible scary movies are a dime a dozen, which is why it’s always such a delight to find a good one. And with a name like Guillermo del Toro attached to the project, you know it’s bound to at least be a quality film. But after the somewhat disappointing Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (which del Toro only wrote, mind you) how will this new film bring the chills and thrills?
Let’s take a look at Mama.
Let’s clear up one huge misconception here and now. This film was neither directed, nor written by del Toro; he was merely one of the producers. If you have seen the movie, you might be shocked because it looks and feels like a del Toro film, much like El Orfanato. The problem with name notoriety is that the real artist behind the work can be lost, in this case Andres Muschietti, who directed, and wrote both the screenplay (in part) and the original short film of the same name. As often in the past, del Toro works again with a Spanish (and I mean that they are from Spain, not just that they speak Spanish) film maker to get butts in seats at the theater, which is awesome, except now no one will know who the real director is. Just goes to show Spain has awesome horror film potential. Just go watch REC to see what I mean. But I’m totally not biased…totally.
Mama starts out with the 2008 financial crash where an unstable man kills his wife before taking his two very young daughters out to the woods to shoot them. They enter a cabin where he plans to do the deed but before he can, a creature attacks him and begins to take care of the girls. Once the two are found in the woods 5 years later, they move in with their uncle and his girlfriend, and are being observed by a psychiatrist because, well, they are crazy forest children and that’s the sort of shit science loves to mess with. But it becomes more and more apparent that as the girlfriend begins to act more motherly towards the girls, something came with them, and that something doesn’t share. One thing I will say is that the plot is a little bit cliche. I mean, man driven to kill his family by financial ruin? Was “possessed” too out there for you? Maybe “was always kind of abusive and nuts” just not vibe with the dialogue?
The acting is pretty great in this film. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, plays both the father and the uncle, is pretty spot on with emoting (though he does get a lot of practice for that on Game of Thrones) The two little girls are not the typical annoying little kid actors, they do actually a good job of being creepy and looking scared when they need to be. In fact, the whole cast is generally pretty good at being freaked out by the crazy events around them.
But by far the standout is the protagonist Annabel, played by Oscar-nominee Jessica Chastain. Annabel is Lucas’, the uncle, girlfriend, who does not want to have children but chooses to stick by his side as he adopts the little girls because she loves him. She is awkward around the girls and isn’t sure how to relate to them, but slowly finds her role around them. She’s never their mother, in the traditional view of the role, but she come to care, and even love them, fighting til the very end to save them. It’s nice to see a movie where the main lead isn’t this love-struck baby-crazing stereotype. I was glad that when the girls arrived, she didn’t immediately fall in love with them or go into mother-hen-mode, but rather took a longer, more natural progression. It was a pretty refreshing change of pace. Though I will say they tried too hard with the rocker look for her character. Maybe a lot too hard.
The worst thing you can do in most horror movies is to show your monster – it usually kills any and all suspense in a movie, like it did in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. In fact, this is the opposite case – the scariest parts of the movie occur when we see Mama herself close up. She is one of the scariest creatures I have ever seen brought to life. She moves and contorts in the most nauseating ways, her hair moves as if she’s floating in water, her limbs are elongated and mangled – it’s creepy all in caps locks. She isn’t as bad towards the end of the film, but that’s because the audience is now used to seeing her and she is meant to be discomforting rather than out right terrifying at that point.
The special effects are well used, not just in the creation of Mama herself, but also in the moths, the possession scene, and the ending (which is pretty freaking beautiful). The cinematography is spot on its lighting, choice of colors, and tight shots when turning corners, making the house look even more unsettling and dark than it already is. There aren’t many jump scares, I can only remember two, but the tone of the film is enough to give you goosebumps.
People argue that this movie is about fears of motherhood, in sort of the same vein as Eraserhead was about fears of fatherhood. I do see where they are coming from, but I think the film has more to it than it. Part of the film is about loss and sacrifice – Mama is only haunting the girls because she lost her own child when she died and has thus searches for her child so they might be reunited. It also deals with the wider spectrum of family. Annabel doesn’t want children, and even in the end, she’s less of a mother-figure to the girls than just a caring adult. But it does show the importance of family, and even in tough times, taking care of one another, even when its difficult, or in this case, life-threatening.
A lot of people don’t seem to like Mama though I couldn’t tell you why. While it’s not a perfect film, it certainly a very good one, and deserves to be praised for actually being good at scaring people. If you want to actually feel dread and fear before all the lovey-mushy stuff coming in February, this is your best bet.
– Incredibly creepy plot.
– Great use of special effects.
– Satisfying ending.
– A little cliche at some points.
– Falls short of perfection.