Movie Review: “Mama” – Horror to Move You

Written by Jesse Gelinas January 19, 2013

Little girls are always creepy in movies like "Mama"“Mama… Mama… Mama…”

Among  the dreck that makes up the monstrous sea of mediocrity that calls itself the modern-day horror genre, sometimes a small moment of peace breaks the storm and allows us to recall when a film—not a flick, or a piece of shit B-feature—but a film, could both be moving and terrifying. “Mama” may not be a masterpiece of originality and high art, but it manages to shine with a sliver of class and measurable heart that is sorely missing from today’s gore soaked celluloid. Guillermo del Toro, and director Andres Muschietti have brought us a solid, enjoyable, and pretty creepy ghost story.

Based on Muschietti’s earlier short film, “Mama”, the movie deals with two young sisters left stranded in a cabin for five years after the death of their parents. Their Uncle Luke (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) finally find the pair and slowly try to reintegrate them into the family unit, but a sinister presence they call Mama has been watching over their time in the wilderness, and has followed them home. As a setup, it’s pretty intriguing. In execution, it’s relatively standard. But it’s the creepiness factor and the impressive performances that give the movie its edge.

“There’s a lady outside. She’s not touching the floor.”

I hate child actors. I really do. They do nothing but bring down a movie’s watchability more than 90% of the time. But the little girls in “Mama” (Megan Charpentier & Isabelle Nelisse) are fantastic. They successfully creep you out for most of the film, and still manage to melt your heart at times. Coster-Waldau (of “Game of Thrones” fame) is solid in the sidelining role he’s given. He does play second fiddle to Jessica Chastain however, who shows once again why she’s on top of Hollywood right now. In a film that doen’t really require top notch performances, Chastain really shines.

Jessica Chastain handles the punk-rock demographic in "Mama"

The film manages to find a nice balance between the creepiness factor and the jump-scare. Mama’s scarce appearances in the first half of the film show little and make her that much scarier. The little girls themselves help make the movie terrifying with their animalistic ways lingering on from years in the wild. Sadly, the second half of “Mama” relies way too heavily on CGI (and not top of the line stuff either), and stops being scary, becoming more a blend of fantasy. This does weaken the film as a horror, but decent writing keeps it from becoming complete cheese.

“A ghost is an emotion bent out of shape.”

I am disappointed to say ‘decent’ writing because I have a lot of love for Neil Cross (creator of the BBC thriller “Luther”), but this isn’t his best work. It’s a cut above a lot of the other crap that comes out this time of year, but not fantastic. Just… solid. The characters are believable and likeable, and the connection between Chastain and the girls feels real and tender. Even the emotional scenes focusing on Mama are well put together and, at times, moving.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Jessica Chastain in "Mama"

“Mama” is a perfectly solid debut for Andres Mucshietti, and will be (hopefully) a hit for del Toro. Some mainstream success might just let him get to a few of his (and our) dream projects. The scares are real, the emotion is genuine, and the ride is pretty thrilling. Some more work could have been done with the film’s closing to give an alternative to heavy CGI, but it’s not a complete loss. It’s still a step in the right direction. If we can expect horror to keep shifting this way, maybe the genre isn’t totally doomed. There are still a few visionaries out there fighting for the right to fright (I had to check Wiktionary to make sure shoehorning in this rhyme was okay).

Andres Mucshietti’s original short film, “Mama”:

My Rating: 7/10

Poster for "Mama"

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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