Zero Dark Thirty's Jessica Chastain stars in the new horror film Mama, produced by Guillermo del Toro! Is it a visionary new tale in terror or an underwhelming experience? 411's Jeffrey Harris checks in with his review!
Directed By: Andres Muschietti Written By: Neil Cross, Andres Muschietti, and Barbara Muschietti Runtime: 100 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
Annabel - Jessica Chastain Lucas/Jeffrey - Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau Victoria - Megan Charpentier Lilly - Isabelle Nelisse Dr. Dreyfus - Daniel Cash
The new horror film Mama is originally based on a short film of the same name by Andres and Barbara Muschietti. The two have now come together to adapt their short as a feature length movie, along with Neil Cross, the creator of Luther. The project has been backed to some degree by Guillermo del Toro, who only appears to have a rather cosmetic executive producer credit on the film to give it some added interest. Make no mistake. This is not a Guillermo Del Toro movie. I’m sure he likes the movie and there are elements in the short that attracted him to the project to help the filmmakers get the movie made; but I still find it a little over the top to put Del Toro’s name all over the movie like it is actually his.
Mama begins shortly after a suit named Jeffrey (Coster-Waldeau) has a mental breakdown and has murdered his wife in cold blood. He kidnaps his two small daughters Victoria and Lilly and starts driving them through frozen roads. They miraculously make it out of a crash unscathed and with nowhere else to go, Jeffrey takes his daughters to a creepy, abandoned old house in order to finish the job and kill his daughters. The girls are saved however by a twisted, ghost-like spirit who snaps Jeffrey’s neck like a twig. This spirit is referred to by the girls as Mama.
Five years later, in a search funded by Jeffrey’s determined twin-brother, Lucas (also Coster-Waldeau), two outdoorsmen finally locate the girls who have been stuck in Mama’s house for five years. They’ve become feral and strange living in Mama’s house. Their early return care is overseen by Dr. Dreyfus (Cash), who seems a little more interested in making his career off of studying the girls and their interest in the figure called Mama. Lucas makes a deal to get custody of the girls by moving into a home owned by Dr. Dreyfus’ institution. Lucas’ goth rocker girlfriend, Annabel (Chastain), is in no hurry to start a family, but for whatever reason decides to stay with Lucas. Not long after, Mama starts asserting her role throughout the home life of the girls as well, of course making life difficult for Lucas and Annabel.
Mama doesn't do much in breaking new ground in terms of horror cinema. It’s pretty derivative. To Muschietti’s credit, the movie is very well shot and he builds creepy atmosphere well. The performances by Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse as Victoria and Lilly respectively after they've returned from their five years in the wilderness is creepy and unsettling. The feral behavior they retreat to is at times unnerving when you see how they started as two innocent children neglected and betrayed by a horrible parent.
The Muschietti’s though often go back to really cheap jump scares. The atmosphere and the scares are good, but the writing and plot leave a lot to be desired. At my screening there was quite a lot of unintentional laughter at the outright stupidity and behavior of the adults and main characters. More than once, characters go out to an abandoned haunted house which they know is likely dangerous at night and alone. The script comes out on the rough side. Lucas, who is set up as the protagonist and hero of sorts, is taken out of most of the movie when he’s injured in an attack by Mama and put in the hospital. This allows Annabel to take over with the girls at home. It was hard to buy into why Annabel was willing to stay and take care of the girls or what she even really sees in Lucas in the first place. Chastain looks good and convincing as a goth-rocker babe, but the rest of her performance is not as sincere.
The movie does ultimately work in some folklore and mythological elements, but it comes out more shoehorned into the third act. It’s executed well, but it could’ve been more prevalent throughout the rest of the story when it’s initially set up almost like a regular episode of American Horror Story. Mama does have a strong, if somewhat ambivalent ending that the rest of the movie didn't quite live up to. Still Muschietti does a decent enough job for his debut feature.
The 411: If you enjoyed the likes of The Grudge and The Ring, then Mama is probably your speed. It's a decently watchable horror flick, but incredibly derivative and unoriginal. The movie has some solid performances, but the writing is at times rather sloppy and disappointing. Still a decent, inoffensive effort from Andres Muschietti with his first feature length effort. Mama is horror movie 101 and while it doesn't break much in new ground, it's a watchable horror film in that respect.