Mama

Mama

“Mama”, produced by Guillermo del Toro and starring Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, has a unique, captivating high concept for a horror movie. When two young girls are abandoned in a cabin in the woods, they’re raised by a ghost, who becomes protective of them, following them even after they’re found and reintegrated into society.

For quite a significant portion of its runtime, “Mama” had me pretty absorbed into the story, and even provided a couple of decent startle moments along the way.

Unfortunately, I have to take the entire movie into consideration here, and at the very end, “Mama” flies right off the rails.

During the most recent Financial Crisis, a wealthy exec loses his mind and shoots his wife and another co-worker, before fleeing town with his two little girls. When a car crash forces him off the road, he and the girls seek shelter in a cabin they discover deep in the woods. It’s not unoccupied, though… roaming the woods nearby is a ghost. It’s this ghost who saves the girls from their father’s attempt at the ultimate act of desperation, and then proceeds to care for their needs in the aftermath.

When the girls are finally found, five years later, they’re feral children. The eldest barely recalls how to speak, and the youngest never really has. They’re dirty, they scamper about like animals, and they’re distrustful of people. It takes quite an effort to begin to reintegrate them into society and family life.

Enter Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) the girls’ uncle, and his girlfriend Annabelle (Jessica Chastain), who begin to try to raise the girls. It’s a struggle, obviously, as the children are unaccustomed to civilization. Taking care of them also presents quite a change in lifestyle for Annabelle, who’s used to playing with her band, and wasn’t ready to be a mother figure to anyone. But it isn’t long before the couple realizes that the biggest challenge they face isn’t in socializing the girls, or finding a way to accommodate them into their lifestyle… but that they have to deal with the supernatural entity who has become the girl’s protector.

For the most part, “Mama” intrigued me with its clever concept. The angle of the feral children helped to engage my concern and my interest, as opposed to say… dropping me straight into a traditional ghost story. The film begins (and the trailers show) with the ghost, so that’s not some surprise element, but early on the focus is certainly around the discovery of the girls, and the attempt to bring them back to some degree of normalcy. Cleverly, over the course of the movie, the supernatural element is given a larger and larger role to play, until it’s entirely at the forefront of the film. Jessica Chastain is also a great actress, so the fact that she’s the primary character and focus of the film helps hold your attention as well.

Regrettably, however, the film’s finale does not live up to the rest of the film. It’s an overwrought spectacle that runs counter to the rest of the film’s suspenseful, personal level ghost story. Bombast and cliché both kick in, and the last ten minutes work double time to fulfill the movie’s “Eye Roll Quota”. It’s almost as if they had an entirely different creative team create the conclusion. It was really disappointing, to me, and ultimately forced me to severely downgrade what otherwise would have been a highly recommendable film.

C+

Daniel Fogarty

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39 thoughts on “Mama

  1. I liked it a little more than you. In my review I pointed out the craft behind the film. It really impressed me. But it is soaked in ghost story cliches and you’re right, the ending does drain some life out of the film.

    Good review as always my friend!

  2. I saw the original Short that drew in Del Toro and loved it so I think I will just leave it at that brilliant piece of short work! Not everything can have the project success of 9! Thanks for taking one for the team Fogs!

    • It wasn’t really “Taking one for the team” level bad (Keep an eye out for my review of “A Haunted House”, pending this week!), just disappointing. I enjoyed most of it actually.

      It was a short though huh? Maybe I’ll have to look that up. Loved the district nine short…

  3. I may give it a shot as I enjoy all horror movies even if they are average and bad. Also Chastain looked hilariously miscast in a trailer, doing feeble Lisbeth Salander impression. She can play classy housewives or career chicks but that? Nah.

    • She did fine. I mean, it’s not her look, but she learned a bass riff (I mean, I dont know, maybe she really plays) and that’s all it takes to establish credibility, apparently, cause I bought it. :)

      Aside from that, they dont really have her doing anything really goth/punk/whatever… just looking that way.

  4. I completely agree that the ending was as if it came from a different (and lesser) film. While the ending was certainly disappointing, I was able to still enjoy this film to some degree. I think a lot of that had to do with a great cast (and not even just Jessica Chastain as I thought the child actors were really good too).

    • Yeah, youre totally right, I mean if this were like a football game, measuring time of possession, the “Enjoyed” team killed it.

      But it hurts to have the disappointment come in the capper. That always feels like it retroactively spoils the whole movie. :( I left with a bad taste in my mouth.

      Definitely not without its virtues though Ryan, you’re right.

  5. I like Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is great eye candy, but this might be too scary for me Fogs. I think after Pan’s Labyrinth, though I appreciate the artistry in that film, I don’t think Del Toro’s movies are my cup of tea.

    • Welllll…. I cant speak to “Too Scary” for you Ruth, I know it wasn’t all that scray for me. It had a couple of decent “jump scares”, but aside from that it was just tense… Let’s put it this way, even if it hadnt ended poorly it was no threat to make my top ten horror movies or anything!

      Meanwhile though, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is one of my favorite films of all time. Top ten! Sad you cant get behind that….

  6. I wasn’t aware Coster-Waldau was in this. Cool. What’s up with horror movies having such poor endings lately? That seems to be the common complaint with pretty much every popular horror movie in the last couple years. Sounds like nothing more than a rental then.

    • Rental is right.

      Tanski and I were just saying that on our show. Do these things get greenlit with an incomplete script or something? I dont know…

      I do know that this one completely failed to stick the landing though :(

    • LOL. I actually got a little chuckle out of that part… where it took the thing and chucked it? LOL That made me laugh, but… I’m pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to. I think the movie makers were looking for some “Oh Noes” there. :D

  7. Well, it didn’t look like much in the trailer, but the short it’s based off of is pretty sweet. I’ll give it a go at some point, probably not in theaters, though.

  8. This certainly looked good from the trailers but my worst fears for these sorts of films seem to have been realized. It sounds like the film will overuse special-effects in its finale to bring, as you say, the supernatural entity to the forefront, and, like so many other similar ghost stories, takes something away from the suspense originally built up. Good review Fogs…I won’t be rushing to see this.

    • Unfortunately Dan, your suspicions are 100% correct. That’s a big part of my disappointment with the ending. They totally did up the special effects and try to make the end a big spectacle…

      There were some things going on too, but that was primary. :(

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  11. O h m y G O D. This film is freaking me out, and I’m only watching it online. How dare they take that word and twist it like this? Mama…mama ugh%&#*asdojavrytku;adgawry…

    I know you’re saying the ending is a let down, but however it ends, I would rate it pretty high, just because it achieves what it set out to do – being friggin scary.

    Or am I just a wimp here? :P

    • I dont jknow, what scares some people wont really scare others. I was impressed, I thought the atmosphere was creppy throughout, with a couple of good startles along the way thrown in for good measure. Did it scare me? I dont know if I’d go that far.

      I really liked the flick too, up til the end. So I guess let me know what you thought there, LOL

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