A mother's love is forever. Too bad the filmmakers didn't love practical FX half as much.
So, the first original horror film of 2013 is unleashed unto audiences this week in the form of the Guillermo del Toro produced Mama. It is a feature adapted from a short film of the same name by writer/director Andrés Muschietti. It is his first feature film and Muschietti does decent work, for the most part, turning his mysteriously creepy short into a 100 minute story of supernatural love and devotion.
The story opens with a well-to-do father frantically leaving some scene of some crime taking his two daughters with him into some cold, snowy hillside woods. They end up stranded in those woods and end up in some abandoned cabin in said woods. Fast forward 5 years later and the two girls are discovered living by themselves with no real sustenance other than cherries and moths. They are both eventually placed in the care of their uncle and his alt-rock chick girlfriend under the on-going research by psychiatrist Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash), who is trying to discover the meaning behind the girls' current condition and who this "mama" is that they constantly refer to as their new care-taker.
Now, before I go on...I would like to point out that everyone does a fine job acting out his or her role in the film. Jessica Chastain is probably the biggest draw, considering her recent Academy Award nomination for her work in Zero Dark Thirty. She plays the self-absorbed douche of a girlfriend named Annabel, who is introduced as someone who clearly doesn't want kids or anything that resembles responsibility. Of course, we warm up to her as she grows closer to the young girls.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, whom you'll be familiar with if you watch Game of Thrones (and I don't know why you wouldn't be watching Game of Thrones), plays double-duty in the film as the dickbag dad and the lovable cool uncle.
As for the young girls, Megan Charpentier (who is paving her own path within the horror genre appearing in last year's Resident Evil: Retribution and the oft-overlooked Jennifer's Body) plays young Victoria with more depth than most actresses twice her age. And Isabelle Nélisse does an awesome job playing the younger Lilly. Both kids were found in savage conditions and they eventually adapt to a more civilized dwelling...so to say that these actresses pulled off such mentally and physically challenging roles would be an understatement. The film truly belongs to these two young talents.
Mama is often times touching...calling for emotional heartstrings whenever it presents the core of its story through the basic love of a mother and her children. It is haunting and competent as a PG-13 horror thriller as it often plays it safe with its many supernatural elements, never really taking any chances. There are several unfortunate choices in the script department that often prevents the film from being something special. For instance, there's one scene in the third act where an important character races to the finale of the film and another main character just fucking conveniently walks into the scene to help out. Makes you wonder if any sincere thought was given to the details of the story.
Speaking of unfortunate decisions...whoever thought it was a great idea to use CGI for most of the running time should be fired...from life. The CGI holds the film back from truly fleshing out its established human elements. The "less is more" rule applies completely here. The more you see of the CGI'd antagonist, the less scary she becomes and the more frustratingly distracting the film becomes.
In the end...Mama is a solid attempt at an original concept taken from a genuinely creepy short film best experienced as a matinee. It is filled with eerie moments of tense atmosphere that never really attempts anything memorable. Nothing more...nothing less.
Jessica Chastain is one hot mama!
See what I did? Because the film is called Mama and Jessica Chastain is a hottie...and...oh, never mind! Sheesh...you're so hard to please!
Thanks for reading,