Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Directed by Andres Mucschietti
Confession time, I’m a neophyte when it comes to the horror genre. Yeah, I’ve seen my share throughout the years, but on the whole, I couldn’t punch my weight in a conversation about horror movies. I’m like the guy who says he’s really into indie rock music because his girlfriend bought him a Death Cab for Cutie album. I’m that guy when it comes to this genre. Why is this important? Well, one has to check reality at the door and judge horror movies a little differently than most genres (which can be hard for me to do). Horror movies need to bring the scare/creep out factor and if that is accomplished, then other deficiencies the rest of the movie can be excused (something else that I’m not very good at). And with horror movies, there seems to be a limited window before it starts to wear out its welcome. I mean, how many times can you see a dark floating object coming towards you or hear door after door get shut dramatically?
But I will try my best to present this review without sounding like that guy…
Mama is the newest film presented by Guillermo del Toro (he’s a producer on the film), a man who knows a few things about the horror genre. Mama tries to buck the early expiration date that comes with the territory by fashioning another story within the model. Credit first time director Andres Muschietti for trying to swing for the fences with Mama, but he strikes out with trying to make this a horror movie. And credit them for getting Jessica Chastain to be in the movie, but for a genre that is known to develop a strong female character (which is why this genre is so attractive to up and coming actresses) she is ultimately left being no better than the clichéd female characters that come in a romantic comedy.
Mama starts with what is intended to be a full murder suicide by a family man who we gather by voice over news reports shot some of his co-workers. After killing his wife, he grabs his two young daughters and hits the road. When ending up at an abandoned house in the woods and about to finish what he started, the family man is taken by apparition in black. The girls are left unharmed. Cut to 5 years later and Jeff the brother of the family man (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is in the middle of an exhaustive search of trying to find out what happened to not only his brother, but his nieces. Luckily for him, the story wastes no time in the search, the girls are found, still in the abandoned house and living a quiet feral life, eating cherries. But the girls are not alone, someone, or something has been looking after them. They call her Mama.
Jeff and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) agree to take care of the girls. Well, Jeff does, Annabel only tags along for plot movement, as her character is really thankless. But guess what comes with the girls? That’s right…Mama… and she’s the jealous type.
What is an interesting story itself, girls who somehow survive for 5 years in the woods only to be found and placed into a civilization to try and accumulate works and for about half of the movie and the idea behind Mama works as well. Sure it’s nothing original, but the young girls pull off the creepy vibe as they pledge allegiance to Mama. But then the movie doesn’t know where to go and that’s when the last 20 minutes of the movie gets silly…really, really silly.
And those last 20 minutes are from the horror movie playbook. This movie could’ve risen above that because its ambitions are clearly laid out. But a needed body count gets in the way of that ambition. Plus the horror aspect of the movie doesn’t really scare either. I may have laughed a bit at the execution of it all. And isn’t that the whole point, to scare us? Fail dude.
And poor Jessica Chastain, dressed up all in all black most of the time (she’s in a band...plays bass) just walks around trying to play guardian to these kids. She doesn’t want to be there and in the end, neither do we. Better luck next time guys.