Written by Andreas Babiolakis
Final Rating: 5.4/10
Horror films may never feel accomplished again. I don’t mean with this film in mind, either, but in regards to the glory days: Back when horror movies had dignity, wits, and legitimate fears. So many horror movies for the past two decades or so have cashed in on cheap gimmicks, and I have to be fair here. Study movies long enough, and you will come to realize that the final product is not necessarily what people envision while they are making that movie. With horror films it’s probably difficult to gauge what will be scary in the final product, especially with so many takes of a specific scene. You really need a gifted director to make a good horror movie. You need a Kubrick, a Scott, and a Hitchcock to make The Shining, Alien and, well, anything Hitchcock touched. I’m not justifying every gimmicky horror movie as a confused final product where the post production process grasps at straws to turn what should have been scary (and wasn’t) into an actually scary product. I’m sure many horror films are made just to earn back a lot of money from movie goers who just want to be scared.
Mama is a movie that clearly had some sort of thought put into it, and it was made with great intention. Guillermo Del Toro saw a short film called, identically, Mama, and those two minutes haunted him. Being a Hitchcock fanatic, it only seems right that Del Toro takes part in some sort of horror film, even if he didn’t direct the final product (Andres Muschietti took that role). Does the movie do that, frankly incredible, short film justice? Not really. Does it capture the fear the short had? Not even remotely. Does it at least try? Absolutely. This movie is the result of a lot of heart and trial and error put into a goal these people had in mind, and somehow, between the writing and the filming and the editing, some communication was lost. This movie had the potential to be absolutely jaw dropping. The cinematography alone is worth seeing. There are some gorgeous shots, and the atmosphere created by the shades of blacks, the hughes of browns, and the “highlights” of grays makes the movie its own being already. You step into the movie knowing fully well exactly what kind of a beast it is.
The acting is also worth the price of admission. Jessica Chastain, successfully taking on such varied roles, plays a bass player with jet black hair, a tattooed sleeve, and a t shirt of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. She plays the rock-girl character so well. She doesn’t make it painfully obvious like, perhaps, the rocker girl in The Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, who actually stands up and says “Yes, I am tortured, people judge me for how I look”. Chastain as a newly maternal figure, who should, out of all people, be second guessing herself as a human being (“am I right for this kind of role?”) plays the character naturally and without any second guessing, and it only makes her all the more firm as the main role. She seems juvenile at heart but her appropriate age mentally. Not once did I think “okay this bad girl persona is getting tiresome”, because it actually seems so natural. Then you have the child actors who, hey, were actually pretty good. They aren’t forced, which is surprising for a movie about children who act rather demonically at times. They held their own rather well. I really felt like the movie carried through the sillier moments because of them, Chastain, and the cinematography. As well, some of the special effects were absolutely phenomenal and really well done (while others were quite humorous, unfortunately).
The movie went wrong in two ways. The movie, essentially like trying to tear a story out of a basic video game, tried to add a premise to a very open-for-interpretation short film, and this interpretation wasn’t very good. There are a few problems plot wise (Really? Why does most of this happen six months after the kids went missing? I know it helps to add time for the girls to slowly get demented, but how likely is it for a search to continue after so long? Even if it did, let’s say, with some shred of hope for the heart filled people of humanity, happen. Why on earth wasn’t it a much bigger deal?), and the story itself ends up being quite a bit ridiculous around the climax. These plot holes and stupidities book end the middle, which I won’t lie, is actually quite admirable for the most part. Getting to see Chastain’s character figure out how to be a motherly figure to these children who are so far gone mentally was quite difficult to pry myself away from. Seeing the incredible special effects that haunted Chastain during these moments really seemed refreshing. This moment here is most likely, from what I can only assume anyways, the starting point of how one could take the two minute short and make it into a movie. The initiation and the resolution are far too messy, too hilarious, and way too gimmicky to have been the square one of this project. The beginning “scares” had me wanting to leave the movie right there and then, but boy am I glad that I stayed. That same feeling came near the end, sadly, but I figured that I may as well finish the movie, and at least give some sort of respect to filmmakers who are really, truly trying their best here.
I cannot fault a movie that has some sort of effort in it that simply just didn’t work in some ways. Mama is still quite fascinating at times, although it can be unintentionally funny at other times. It at least tries to play with the confusing instincts of a new mother, and this theme gets amplified by a musician who already has not conformed with the orthodoxies of the routine world having to discover how to be in charge of children. This movie still is worth checking out, despite its flaws, because it has some really remarkable ideas and efforts here, and you can tell that most of the failures this movie has is only because they tried something a bit different, and that the thrown-in jump scare gimmicks were, perhaps, a bad idea, but were only meant with good intentions.