Hey ‘Mama’ (2013) but we’re all boring as hell nowwww!

26 Feb

Mama-movie-posterIt’s horror movie time! Directed by the legendary Guillermo del Toro, Mama stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as struggling uncle Lucas, whose orphaned daughters Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) are recently rediscovered in a remote log cabin in the snowy mountains. Feral as a result of abandonment, Lucas takes them in along with his girlfriend, a punk rock bassist (who inexplicably drives one of those flower-power hippie Volkswagens from the sixties) played by Jessica Chastain. However, the girls speak of a ghostly being they call ‘Mama’, and spookiness follows them at every turn.

Lets break out the traditional horror movie checklist of clichés: haunted house? Check. Isolated cabin in the woods? Check. Creepy/potentially possessed children? Check. Restless spirits with an unfulfilled life? Check. A rising crescendo of violins to signal an upcoming scare? Check. The influence of recent ‘found footage’ films (Grave Encounters, Quarantine, those horrendous Paranormal Activity movies) is obvious here: though Mama isn’t shot in this format, several of the camera angles play with the fact that we the viewers can see more than the characters can. In general, the best horror films are those which play with the genre and use the established template as a springboard to add something new to the mix; aside from competent acting, Mama brings nothing unusual to the table.

However, the film’s main flaw, which happened right at the beginning and completely took me out of it, is that the bad guy is revealed almost instantly. Sure she does some horrifying things throughout the course of the movie, but since the veil of mystique has been lifted that extra dimension of horror just isn’t there. In fact, once you get a good look at her, you’ll find that Mama herself isn’t actually very frightening in appearance – she looks like the girl from The Ring mixed with one of those Easter Island heads. I laughed more than I jumped, not only due to her dopey face, but also because each scare is promptly telegraphed by either the aforementioned, over-exuberant string sections or by one of the girls literally gawking at that which they expect us to be shocked by moments later.

All of this said, Mama does bear the traditional high production that one comes to expect from a Del Toro flick.  There are a handful of awesomely animated flashback/dream sequences which vary from nuns being stabbed in the left boob to guys huddling under bridges and pointing at things. Chastain wakes up a few pounds lighter from dreams so many times that it can actually be hard to distinguish reality from fiction at times. A clever narrative technique, or just poor editing and scriptwriting? Ultimately the latter, for ‘it was all a dream’ is one of the cardinal sins of effective storytelling; it just seems cheap. The lighting is really well done, and the effects on the ghostly apparition are detailed – she slithers in and out of ajar windows/closets with a silky aplomb. Shame about her face, though!

As unoriginal and contrived as they come, Mama is part of that irritating breed of horror movies which rely on cheap jumpy scare-tactics rather than inducing any real feelings of genuine horror. Add to this an occasionally confusing script and contemptible plot devices (seriously, aren’t we all done with characters randomly falling into comas?) and what you get is an underwhelming if characteristically pretty film from del Toro.

Simon says: more like ‘Mehmeh’. Amirite amirite!?


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