“Mama” is yet another fine example of the Modern PG-13 Horror Film Formula. Not much gore, a computer generated monster and weird, twitchy little kids that owe their convulsing inspiration to that poor girl in the “The Ring”. There are plenty of jolts throughout and “Mama” does accomplish the guts of what a scary movie should: It is scary.
On a cold and snowy day Jeffery (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) kills his wife and heads to the hills with his two daughters, 3 year-old Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and cute baby girl Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse). Grief stricken and crazed, Jeffery careens off the road and crashes into the forest. There the sad trio wanders off and finds a ramshackle cabin that seems abandoned but (of course) they are not alone. A dark and vengeful spirit roams these woods searching for her lost enfant. Lucky Mama, she just got hand delivered two babies…
Five years pass and the girl’s uncle Lucas (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau but now with a beard and you can hardly recognize him) has not given up hope. A search party he has hired stumbles upon the cabin. No Jeffery to be found but the two girls are alive and are a little damaged having spent some much of their formative years being raised by a demon in the woods. They are taken back to civilization and given the opportunity to live a normal life with Unkie Luke and his hot rockstar girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain). Annabel takes some warming up to the ragged children but slowly finds a spot in her heart for them. But Mama isn’t going to lose her babies again. And she’s a horrifying monster lady who and bleed through walls and haunt your dreams so thinks get a little crazy.
There is an effective unease that seeps through most of the film. Many of the heart-pounding moments are delivered by Jump-Scares when a sudden loud noise or quick image pops out at you. This tactic is used throughout and it becomes tiresome by the end. Much of what is disturbing about “Mama” is that it involves innocent kids which is becoming a signature of scary movies produced by Guillermo del Toro (“Don’t be Afraid of the Dark,” “The Orphanage,”). Here del Toro gives Writer/Director Andrés Muschietti his shot at his first feature film and the man shows some nuance and style to his storytelling.
Jessica Chastain is Hollywood’s current “It” actress who has starred in 10 films since the beginning of 2011!! She does fine here but don’t expect many fireworks like you’ve come to expect from her as nearly anyone could have played Annabel with the same results. The real standouts here are the young Charpentier and Nélisse as the broken little girls. They are both heartbreaking while Nélisse’s Lily is the scariest element of the entire film.
I won’t pick the film apart as I realize that many films in the Genre rely on flimsy logic but “Mama” is filled with plot points that can induce the rolling of the eyes in disbelief. My favorite was when Annabelle is barreling down the road, racing to find the girls and Lucas (who had been roaming the forest for some reason that is never explained) lunges out into the street as Annabelle screeches to halt and nearly hits him. Fancy meeting you here. Imagine that writer’s meeting:
“How are we going to get Lucas back with Annabelle?”
“I don’t know. How about he just walks out of nowhere in front of the car and says ‘I got your message.’?”
“But that doesn’t make any sense….”
No, it doesn’t and unfortunately there are other outright stupid moments that can pull you out of the story so my advice is to not think about things too much and you’ll be good.