Published on July 23rd, 2013 | by Allan Brown0
Movie Review: Mama (2013)
Director: Andrés Muschietti
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier
Plot: A young couple are faced with the challenge of raising two young feral girls who have been left isolated in a cabin for over half a decade…alone.
The Horror genre has never been for the faint hearted, least of all for the director. The task of scaring a new age audience fed an almost daily diet of gore and thrills from TV shows, videogames and the non-stop tidal wave of copy-cat jump scare horror franchises has become a directorial horror in itself for any credible filmmaker.
Mama is a horror movie with the name Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) attached to it and although the director is only aboard as executive producer his involvement is assurance in itself given his well-earned reputation as a highly inventive and original filmmaker. Seeing as one of the director’s previous producer roles on a horror picture gave us the beautifully crafted movie The Orphanage, expectations for this project were high.
When mama began life in 2008 as a 3 min short film, director /Producer ‘Guillermo del Toro’ was said to be so captivated with the atmosphere, horror, intensity and craftsmanship of such a short movie that he decided to approach the director ‘Andrés Muschietti‘ about developing the project into a feature length picture.
Below is the original mama short along with an introduction by Guillermo del Toro
Our story begins with a banker Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who after killing his wife see’s himself left with little choice but to do the same with his two young girls. However in his attempt he is stopped by an ethereal being who seems inordinately protective of the girls.
Mama offers a relatively simple story that deals with themes of love, mortality, motherhood and redemption through the sharp contrast of life and death. These themes are there throughout but never fully explored and only ever surface scratched of what could have been a much deeper, thought provoking and ultimately satisfying film.
‘Andy Muschetti’ directs with an assured touch and delivers with some flare here and there whilst encompassing a few interesting set pieces. The often excellent cinematography gives Mama a very eerie ambiance with its desaturated colour palette helping the film achieve a chilly atmosphere throughout. However the problems with the film are its inability to build any real tension or suspense and what starts with promise fast becomes a typical haunted house stereotypical affair.
There are a few well executed sequences but the overuse of CGI on the spectre itself lacks any realism and many of the set pieces feel like an afterthought with CGI drawn in to add an extra jump scare on a shot that it was never intended for (CGI ghosts popping up behind a character). These moments feel mama ghost Nikolaj Coster Waldauforced, cheap and tacked on.
Zero Dark Thirty Oscar nominated actress ‘Jessica Chastain’ and Game of Thrones star ‘Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’ offer uninspiring performances as Lucas and Annabel and for all the efforts to make them feel and look the non-parent cliché type that unfortunately is exactly what they become. However, it is the two young girls (Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse) who offer intermittently captivating and naturalistic performances as Victoria and Lilly and only down to the direction and writing do their characters stumble into the obvious and tired horror formula. The real shame here is that no time is given or devoted in the way of character development which could have turned this into an interesting and more involving psychological thriller as opposed to just another popcorn horror movie.
Summary: Mama offers a little more visual flare, substance and integrity than most recent horror films but it falls short on character development, tension and suspense in a story that is never fully explored or realised.