MAMA recently was released on blu-ray and DVD so, I thought I’d post my review of this supernatural chiller!
The Guillermo del Toro produced Mama isn’t a bad horror film but, it just isn’t a very scary one. The story is good. Two little girls are taken by their off-the-edge dad (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who’s just shot their mother and some co-workers. They crash off the road during dad’s escape attempt and wind up in a decrepit old cabin in the woods…one that possibly has an otherworldly occupant. A few years later, they are found alive, somehow having survived and these now feral children are given over to their dad’s twin brother Lucas (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his rocker wife, Annabel (Jessica Chastain). The girls don’t seem to have come alone and whatever has followed them isn’t happy about sharing them.
The problems with Mama aren’t from it’s story, it’s that despite giving the film a nicely spooky visual style, director Andres Muschietti doesn’t build much tension, suspense or scares. There are a few creepy sequences and some well executed jump scares but, the biggest problem is that “Mama” is revealed far too early and it is an obvious CGI specter that is simply not scary. When is Hollywood going to learn CGI ghosts are just not effective. Even when an accident leaves Annabel alone for a while with the girls and their adoptive spook, there is little suspense as Annabel tries to figure out why strange things are happening. It is very well done as Annabel transforms from selfish bitch to someone who really cares about the girls and wants to solve the mystery of who “Mama” is, but it’s never scary or carries much tension or suspense. We are with her as she investigates, but there isn’t the dramatic intensity it needs to make us truly riveted to our seats. Then, the final act switches gears and we go from a horror film to a gothic fairy tale ending. I don’t think the change in tone quite worked, although, ironically, I liked the last act very much, but not attached to the rest of the movie.
The cast are all good here with Chastain standing out as the bass player wife and reluctant overnight mom. She comes across as a bitch early on, but believably grows into a woman who comes to care about her nieces and is willing to put herself at risk to fight for them. The girls are wonderful too. Megan Charpentier plays the older Victoria, who starts to see “Mama” for the dangerous entity she is and Isabelle Nelisse is the younger Lilly, who still is very attached to “Mama” and sees her as a friend and maternal figure.
The script is good, it just seems director Muschietti didn’t quite know how to give it the edge it needs and the switch in tone for the last act is a bit jarring. Once again, he is also betrayed by the obviously phony CGI embodiment of his title character. Overall, Mama is not a bad supernatural thriller and there is a lot to like about it, but it just doesn’t quite effectively give the material the strength and intensity it needed to keep us riveted or peeking through our fingers, which is what a film like this is supposed to do.
3 spooks only because I loved the visuals, especially in the last act, and Chastain and the rest of the cast made their roles work.