The first two thirds of horror film Mama are so creepy and stylishly shot it’s a tragedy that the film succumbs to cliché and implausibility in its latter stages.
This is yet another film with the production imprimatur of Guillermo del Toro and anyone who has seen previous films he has produced will know that this means spooky children communing with an evil shadowy monster lurking in the family home.
Having been declared missing five years ago, eight year old Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and five year old Lily (Isabelle Nélisse) are discovered living like feral animals in a secluded forest cabin…nobody knows who or what has been keeping them alive. When the kids are adopted by their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain), bizarre disturbances begin to occur around their home and it appears that something sinister has accompanied the girls back to civilisation.
With Mama, Director Andrés Muschietti has fashioned a tense and visually striking horror film. He’s clearly a talented director even if his work heavily references a number of classic horror films. There’s Exorcist-like spider walking monsters and eerie hypnosis scenes, framing and tracking shots that recall Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and scenes of creatures invading children’s bedrooms that are reminiscent of Poltergeist.
Performances in Mama are better than average for a horror film. The children, Victoria and Lily are particularly effective as they manage to be both cute, vulnerable moppets and unnerving emissaries of a supernatural world. Jessica Chastain, almost unrecognisable as a sullen, tattooed goth rocker, is typically fine she slowly asserts a commanding presence in the film. Her role references that classic cinematic strong Mother figure, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from the Alien films.
For its first two thirds Mama is as good as any mainstream horror film of recent decades. There are some very effective pop-out scares and unnerving use of sound effects. Unfortunately, the film shoots itself in the foot in the final act as too many ridiculous things happen. On not one but two separate occasions supposedly educated adults head off into the woods at night alone even though they know something deadly is waiting for them. Also, the final face-off with the creature verges on comedy. The monster is initially quite scary as it’s shown only in fleeting glimpses and has a disturbing guttural voice. When fully revealed, though, it’s disappointing to find that it resembles something out of a 1990’s Marilyn Manson video.
This was almost a very fine horror film and is still worth a look for its early scenes but in the end it’s a lost opportunity.
Nick’s rating: Three stars.
Director(s): Andrés Muschietti
Release date: 14th Mar 2013
Running time: 100 mins.
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