Mama Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
DVD released by Universal Pictures UK
Directed by Andrés Muschietti
Written by Neil Cross, Andrés Muschetti, Barbara Muschetti
2013, 100 minutes, Rated 15(UK)
Jessica Chastain as Annabel
Nicolaj Coster-Waldau as Lucas/Jeffrey
Megan Charpentier as Victoria
Isabelle Nélisse as Lilly
Mama! Just killed a man. Not with a gun against his head, but nasty supernatural powers instead. Mama! Life has just begun for little Lilly and Victoria, who are abandoned in the woods by their troubled murderer of a father and adopted by something far worse instead. Mama! They didn't mean to make her cry, but when the girls are found by their hippy uncle and his rocker girlfriend, their surrogate mother begins to suffer some terrible jealousy pangs. Mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let them go!
Ahem. With that out of my system, on with the review. The much hyped Mama is brought to us by executive producer Guillermo del Toro, who knows a thing or two about modern fairy tales. With protégé Andrés Muschetti, the apple hasn't fallen too far from the tree. Mama lacks the imagination you might expect from del Toro's own movies, but this is a solid foundation for a promising career. Lest we forget that del Toro's debut English language movie, Mimic, was hardly a masterpiece.
After they find themselves lost and alone in the woods, Lilly and Victoria soon fall into bad habits, becoming a pair of those 'feral kids' The Sun newspaper is always harping on about. Either their father dragged them very deep into the woods or the search party didn't look very hard, since it takes five years for anyone to find them. While Victoria retains some memory of her past life, little sister Lilly is completely animalistic – barely able to speak and running around on all fours like a little human dog. Found by a belated search party, the girls are passed into the custody of their bohemian uncle. While Uncle Jeff takes it in his stride, punky Annabel is less pleased by the arrival of her newfound nieces. The discovery of Lilly and Victoria is the most entertaining and the creepiest part of Mama, so it's a disappointment that the film chooses to sweep it under the carpet so quickly. What starts out as a toned down version of The Woman becomes something akin to Case 39 and The Orphan by way of Drag me to Hell and The Woman in Black. The film is packed full of jump scares and truly tense moments. It's best witnessed with an audience, as the jumps and screams of those around you really adds to the sense of fun. It recycles the same trick a few too many times, but the fast pace of the story ensures that you're never too far away from another, better scare.
Respectable actors such as Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau ensure that the quieter moments are just as gripping as the louder, scarier bits. Chastain is particularly good – a far cry from her suited, professional character in Zero Dark Thirty. The dyed black hair suits her – I found myself harbouring a sizeable crush on her as the film developed. Waldau is likeable as Jeffrey, the cool uncle. Even the child actresses aren't that annoying, although you probably wouldn't want to adopt the pair yourself. Their personal hygiene is atrocious, and then there's the matter of the big black damp patches which follow them everywhere they go, constantly spawning bugs and looking rather vaginal.
Following a disappointing year for horror releases, Mama is a pleasant surprise. Go in with suitably lowered expectations and you'll find the best mainstream ghost story since The Woman in Black. In terms of scares per runtime, it's great value for money. Mama might look a bit like the tooth fairy from Darkness Falls and the ending is stupid, but there's a passion to the film lacking from most modern high budget horror productions.
Thunderbolts and lightning. Mama, at times, is very very frightening.