Mama – Review

Ah yes, another Guillermo Del Toro-produced horror.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff; ‘The Orphanage’ was an emotional and effective supernatural gem, ‘Julia’s Eyes’, although technically not a horror, had creepy elements that sent a shiver down one’s spine and of course there’s ‘Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark’, which was easily the most disappointing out of the lot, but had a nice sense of classic fairy-tale horror.  Also, we can’t forget Del Toro’s own work in horror, such as ‘Cronos’ and ‘The Devil’s Backbone’, which are also magnificent little horror gems.  So the announcement of yet another Del Toro-produced horror can only cause excitement. 
‘Mama’, directed by Andrés Muschietti, is actually based on the spine-tingling Spanish-language horror short, ‘Mamá’ (2008), which was also directed by Andrés Muschietti.  ‘Mamá’ caught Del Toro’s attention, thus began the creation of the 2013 Spanish-Canadian horror.  ‘Mama’ follows the story of two little feral girls that are found in the wilderness five years after their father, a senior partner of an investment brokerage, had a breakdown and killed his two associates and his wife. He then continued to take off with his two daughters, eventually crashing in the snow in the middle of nowhere, finding shelter in an isolated cabin, only to come face-to-face with a ghost-like creature.  The two girls are adopted by their uncle, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and his partner Annabel (Jessica Chastain), who win custody over the girls instead of their grandmother.  In result of Lucas and Annabel winning custody, Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kask) asks to observe the girls in reaction to their claims of being raised by someone known as “Mama”.  They soon discover that they were not alone in that abandoned house and they are far from alone still.
‘Mama’ could easily be a Japanese horror.  We have the boney, crazy-haired and feral ghost/creature along with the eerie and ever so creepy croaky throat noises, the only thing stopping it from being a Japanese horror is the fact that… well… it’s not Japanese.  Like most great horror’s, ‘Mama’ relies heavily on noises in the night, until the fear of the unknown is ruined by a CGI creation of Mama, which is still creepy, but looks too computerised for its own good.  Another unpleasantly chilling element of the film is the reveal of the two feral girls.  If you have ever studied Psychology or Sociology you may be familiar with “Genie”, the feral child.  Once studying feral children, the whole situation is a lot more real and disturbing; the idea of a human being with animalistic behaviours is an uncomfortable sight to see.  The two young actresses (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse) portray these feral characters shockingly realistically; their performances can easily be compared to “Genie”.  There is nothing more unnerving than seeing a toddler run across a garden using her bare hands and feet, in an ape-like manor, it supports the idea that we aren’t born human, but are transformed into humans through socialisation.
Jessica Chastain pulls off the dyed-black hair, punk-rock and tattooed chick perfectly (compared to her roles in films such as ‘The Help’), she gives us a touching relationship between her and the two girls, who despite not wanting to adopt in the first place, grows to love and care for in a way that doesn’t feel forced and fake.  It is Jessica Chastain, Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse that really steal the show, shining the light off of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.  However, this doesn’t mean Nikolaj’s performance isn’t impressive, he definitely gives us the caring uncle you’d expect, with a brilliant juxtaposition between the broken and corrupt twin brother/father (who he also plays) from the beginning of the film. 
Much like the ‘Paranormal Activity’ series, the only moment you truly feel unsafe in ‘Mama’ is at night time, resulting in the film rarely throwing you off-guard, but still delivering the expected and occasionally effective shock-factor when the lights go out.  Despite the clichéd scares and the CGI, ‘Mama’ is an effective horror story that really gives us hope for the future of the genre.  However, you can’t shift the feeling that the film would have been better off being made in the Director’s native tongue (Spanish), along with a smaller budget, straying away from Hollywood special effects and big names, to create a more realistic atmosphere.  But what really drags ‘Mama’ down is the anti-climactic ending that leaves a bad taste in your mouth and an “is that it?” attitude.  At least it’s better than the Del Toro-Produced ‘Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark’.
-Bill Gordon

Follow Bill on Twitter: @2FlashGordon7

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