Review – Mama (15) [2013]

Mama - title banner

Star Rating 2.5/5

Director:

Executive Producer:

Cast:

  • Jessica Chastain – The Debt, Take Shelter, Coriolanus, The Help, Zero Dark ThirtyInterstellar
  • Nikolaj Coster-Waldau – Headhunters, Game of Thrones, Oblivion
  • Megan Charpentier – Jennifer’s Body, Red Riding Hood, Resident Evil: Retribution, Never Ever
  • Isabelle Nélisse
  • Jane Moffat – Alphas, Come Dance With Me, An Enemy
  • Javier Botet – Rec I-III, As Luck Would Have It, Al Final Todos Mueren
  • Daniel Kash – The Dresden Files, Alphas, Split Decision

Music Composer:

  • Fernandez Velázquez – The Orphanage, Devil, The ImpossibleA Monster Calls

The Woman in Black and The Possession are testament not only to the tiredness, comical and abysmal nature of the horror genre, they also signal that ghost stories and films about possessive/evil spirits have been done so many times that they seem to no longer be capable of scaring audiences. Despite being a notch up from most other recent horror movies, Mama does little to alter this view.

Annabel (Jessica Chastain) and Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) talking with Dr. Dreyfuss. Lucas is determined to foster his late-brother's daughters, despite their problems.

Annabel (Jessica Chastain) and Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) talking with Dr. Dreyfuss. Lucas is determined to foster his late-brother’s daughters, despite their problems.

  Mama begins with the mysterious death of Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in a cabin in the woods, leaving his two very young daughters, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily (Isabelle Nélisse), to seemingly fend for themselves. But were they alone?

  Five years later, the two girls are found, looking like wild barbarians, and are sent to live with their uncle, Lucas (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and his rock-chick girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain). But something else has come with Victoria and Lily; something they call ‘Mama.’

As far as horror films go, the plot for Mama is actually not bad for the first 60 of the movie’s 100 minute running time. The film may not be particularly frightening, despite a few jumpy moments, but at least it can make one’s heart-rate speed up a bit at times (which is almost novel for horror films these days).

But, disappointingly, Mama loses its way at the hour mark. Subsequently, it descends into the normal clichés and follies that are symptomatic of the genre: parts of the plot get thrown by the wayside; plot threads don’t add up; and the parts of the storyline that do work become so contrived that they might as well not work. Worse, long before the end, even the things that made the film tense and jittery lose that ability.

Annabel concerned by what devilry has come with Victoria and Lily, and is now in the house.

Annabel concerned by what devilry has come with Victoria and Lily, and is now in the house.

The key reason for why Mama can sustain viewer’s interest for as long as it does is due to the acting and the dialogue. For once, both are acceptable by anyone’s standard (and not just in comparison to the acting and dialogue in abominations like Jennifer’s Body and The Wolfman). Unsurprisingly, Jessica Chastain holds her all as the lead character, albeit in a far more casual manner than in Zero Dark Thirty, and makes conversations about evil spirits seem mundane and normal, which is not as easy as one would think (as The Woman in Black and The Possession attest). The two young girls also perform unexpectedly decently. Lily’s behaviour is particularly weird and unsettling, yet Isabelle Nélisse makes it look nothing out of the ordinary due to her character’s peculiar circumstances.

Indeed, the only actor who is somewhat disappointing is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and for no fault of his own. Lacking the smugness of Jaime ‘the Kingslayer’ Lannister from Game of Thrones, Coster-Waldau does alright with what he is given. But his role is quite minimal and modest, meaning that his talents are largely wasted in Mama. The rest of the cast, including Jane Moffat, as Jean, Lucas’ sister, and Daniel Kash, as the suspicious Dr. Dreyfuss, have even less to do than Coster-Waldau, rendering their value to the film close to irrelevant.

However, the person with arguably the most irrelevant impact upon Mama is Guillermo Del Toro. Was he solely made executive producer to enable debutant director Andrés Muschietti to ride on the coat-tails of his 2006 Oscar-nominated Pan’s Labyrinth? Well, that and to dupe people (like me) into the cinema most probably.

There is little doubt that Mama is not a par with Pan’s Labyrinth, but it has its own music and that should be commended. The music lacks the power, depth and variety of the scores in The Lion King, The Dark Knight Rises and Lincoln, and it might be limited in range too, but at least it does not recycle the standard stringy music (followed by a sudden crescendo) that is sadly all too common in horror movies.

Annabel with Lily and Victoria, as they realise, with horror, that 'Mama' has come to pay them a visit.

Annabel with Lily and Victoria, as they realise, with horror, that ‘Mama’ has come to pay them a visit.

  The same can roughly be said for the special effects in Mama as well. They’re not bad and, initially, whatever ‘Mama’ is can make one feel like something is crawling underneath one’s skin (which is a good thing!). But this wears out soon enough, making the effects little more than an unpleasant, immaterial sight.

  Overall, Mama is not a terrible horror film and is certainly better in every respect than The Woman in Black and The Possession. Mama shoots itself in the foot after an hour, so to speak, but at any rate, it has some suspense with passable acting and dialogue, and curious music. Nevertheless, even with all of the above and a new director, Mama underlines the exhaustion and lack of innovation in the paranormal-inclined horror genre, which has been going on for too long.

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