The marketing for Mama has been heavily dependant on emphasizing Guillermo del Toro’s involvement, which definitely grabs your attention. Del Toro has a very imaginative approach that creates solid characters and stunning visuals. With the exception of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark I have liked all of del Toro’s movies that he has written and/or directed. That said Mama was not written or directed by del Toro but is actually primarily the work of Andres Muschietti who originally made Mama as a short in 2008 and also wrote and directed this feature length version. Even though del Toro obviously had influence, Mama is the baby of Muschietti.
A brief introduction to Mama is as follows: After disappearing for five years, two young nieces of Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who has been searching for then since news broke that his twin brother ran off with them. After living in the woods for five years the two girls are troubled and talk to an “imagined” entity called Mama. The eldest of the nieces is adjusting better to the new situation but Lucas’ girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain), is struggling herself to adjusting to having to look over these girls with Lucas once Mama starts to become less imaginative and more real. Click here for the trailer.
There are two major highlights for Mama starting with its writer/director Andres Muschietta. The atmosphere he creates with the dark grey-ish tones keeps you in this state of uneasiness throughout the whole movie that benefits the spooky events and jump scares. And trust me there are plenty. What makes the scares so effective is how well written the story is. The pace is very well done mainly because there is rarely a lull between the scares and the subtly of the scares. Recent horror movies try too hard to throw gore at you to make it “scare” you but Mama instead builds suspense with its subtle foreshadowing and the dark atmosphere I mentioned to make you concerned for the characters.
That brings me to the second highlight of Chastain as Annabel and the two nieces. Chastain could not have done a better job as Annabel who at the start of the movie is very selfish and rude but threw everything that happens she becomes a protagonist that we can really pull for. Then the two nieces played by Megan Charpentier as Victoria (older) and Isabelle Nelisse as Lilly (younger) were fantastic. They had good chemistry together but also played very different characters. Victoria who was about three when the characters went missing can adjust to civilized life easier in the sense that she can communicate and interact even though she is definitely troubled but not to the level of her sister Lilly. Lilly was so young that she not only cannot communicate but she cannot even walk correctly and Nelisse made it look natural even for being a young actress.
I did have some quarrels with the film though. Though effective, the jump scares were very repetitive. How many times could they bring the same ghost-like character out of the dark and into the light only to have them back up into the dark again? Luckily it was not done too often but at times I thought to myself “did they mean to put the same scare in there again?” My other quarrel was with the in your face product placement. If you read my Flight review you probably know I have no problem with it so long as it does not become a focal point for the scene. That said one of the characters as they are leaving the hospital makes a call on their cell phone as says “I need the number for Enterprise Rent-A-Car.” He did not say he needed a number for a car rental place near the hospital he flat out said a company that may not have been that close which is inconvenient for someone in need of a car!
Overall, Mama is one of the scarier movies I have seen in theaters since Insidious which was also PG-13. That should be a hint toward movie-makers that an R rating will make a movie scarier than a PG-13 rated horror movie. Mama had quality scares even if they are repetitive and is very well written story. I give Mama an 8/10.