I knew nothing of this film before entering the cinema except that it starred Jessica Chastain (Yes!) and was directed by Guillermo del Toro (Yes!). One of those facts of course turned out to be false. As is often the case with modern horror this film was not directed by but rather ‘presented by’ del Toro who was in fact the executive producer. Mama is a fairly conventional modern horror film which I admit I’m going to find difficult to review. If you want a review of the film as seen from behind my girlfriend’s shoulder or a review of the sound you can hear when your eyes are closed then you’ve come to the right place. I am a total horror wuss and as usual for a film featuring ghosts, it scared the shit out of me.
Following the 2008 financial crash a businessman murders his partners and wife before abducting his two young children. He crashes his car in a forest and ends up in a creepy cabin from where he is mysteriously taken. Five years later his twin brother (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is still searching for the girls when two men happen upon them in the same cabin they entered five years earlier. The girls now eight and six are half wild, move about on all fours and have an imaginary friend called Mama. They go to live with their uncle and his girlfriend (Jessica Chastain) where things start to go freaky weird.
There are some nice ideas in Mama and unusually for a horror film, the cast features major names. I liked the creepy way the girls moved following their years in the woods and the ‘mama’ idea was interesting. My intrigue lasted as long as the scares did, which was until the final twenty minutes. As well as some clever ideas and interesting set pieces there is also quite a lot of poor dialogue and typically ridiculous characterisation. The records office woman for instance goes from a normal old lady in a public records office to a strange spiritualist person in a matter of seconds. I also didn’t buy into the psychiatrist character and the girls other relative felt like a character who was only in the film for her final scene. The stars though play grounded and fairly realistic characters. Chastain is in a band and looks the part and Coster-Waldau, an illustrator has the charm and laid back approach that fits. Both my girlfriend and I were very satisfied with the casting on an aesthetic level too. Coster-Waldau has been a favourite of hers since he burst out of Game of Thrones and Chastain looks really hot as a rocker. Really hot. Both actors are excellent as you’d expect.
As I’ve already mentioned I found the film scary. I do scare easily, especially when ghosts are involved but the film managed to judge the bangs, screeches and jumps well, even if a lot of the scares were as a result of anticipation followed by a loud noise. While this might not be particularly inventive, it serves its purpose. The character of Mama is inherently creepy and well and truly scared me until the final few moments when she is constantly on screen. As with all monster movies, it is what you can’t see that is scarier than what you can. The girls, who were extremely well portrayed, especially by Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse, were really scary. Their animal like behaviour and talking to things which weren’t there are creepy as hell and worked well. Just seeing a toddler scuttle about on all fours faster than humanly possible is itself scary. While the film did scare me (lots), I’m annoyed it did as there isn’t much that is new here. The story also goes off the boil once the reasoning behind the paranormal activity is explained.
Overall Mama is a run of the mill horror film which features an above average cast, plenty of scares but little originality. I was interested by the opening and the first hour really scared me but the ending isn’t great and there are plenty of silly problems. Still, it scared me and you can’t ask for much more than that.
The film is based on a 2008 short of the same name.
Mama borrows the flash bulb idea from Hitchcock's Rear Window.
Twins Maya and Sierra Dawe play the younger version of Lilly.