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Review: Mama


Mama said freak you out...

mama montage

“Mama, we’re all gonna die!” goes the classic My Chemical Romance and Liza Minnelli track and that line nicely sums up the general plot of the latest Jessica Chastain starrer; horror movie Mama. ‘Presented’ by Guillermo Del Toro (meaning he acted as Executive Producer) Mama tells the story of two sisters who lose their real family in strange circumstances never fully explained, and their relationship with a vengeful spirit.

Whether or not this has been released now to cash in on Jessica Chastain’s huge profile thanks to Zero Dark Thirty (2012) is anyone’s guess but it certainly feels as though the studio have learnt from House At The End Of The Street (2012) which was released off the back of Jennifer Lawrence’s Hunger Games (2012) fame. It must be said though, that Mama for its many flaws isn’t terrible. For one thing Jessica Chastain is a solid and reliable screen presence even when sporting a distracting black wig and rock chick look, and in general the casting is pretty good. A decent turn from Game Of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and by turns some effectively cute and creepy performances from the two children raise the film above your average B-lister ghost story. However, so much of the plot and the scares are derivative that it’s hard to commend the film for much in the way of originality apart from the scenery which is beautiful – it was shot in Toronto and there are plenty of gorgeous snowy scenes.

mama girl with thing in backgroundAfter a mysterious opening act in which a father returns home, accused of murdering his wife, and takes his kids on the run, we are treated to a ghost story with an intriguing plot point; the ‘monster’ raises the children. After five years in the middle of nowhere growing up with a spirit as their ‘Mama’, eating nothing but cherries,the girls are found and returned to civilisation. This promises much in the under-explored area of feral children and delivers some remarkably sick inducing yet also incredibly poignant moments. The introductions to the ‘monster’ and then to the girls five years later are just two instances of stomach-churning scares while the heart strings are tugged in some especially moving scenes between Jessica Chastain’s Annabel and her youngest ‘foster’ child Lily.

The film would have been far more interesting had it focused more on the girls’ attempts to return to normality while amusing their ‘Mama’ and less on a The Ring style investigation where the main female character tries to appease the spirit by delving into their past and finding the appropriate offering.  Along the way to this obvious denouement there are a few good scares to be had as well as some cheap loud noise jumps, but just as many lighter more humorous moments, some deliberate others not so. In fact in the screening I attended there were far too many sniggers for a horror film that wasn’t directed by Sam Raimi. These moments can be overlooked in the context of scare to laugh ratio, but where the film falls down the most is at that crucial stage in any horror film involving a monster; the reveal.

mama girl screamingThroughout we catch glimpses of the demon ‘playing’ with the children or floating, obscured by an object or another person. When the final act comes round, the film loses almost everything that made it scary up to that point. A mixture of CGI and bad design make for a spirit that looks like a slightly gaunter version of Shelley Duvall – not particularly frightening. However, the last few moments involving the spirit are inspired and the ending came as a good surprise.

While Mama hits many of the beats familiar to modern mainstream horror films, there is enough unique about the story for it to sustain the audience’s attention for its brief running time. Solid performances all round and a Del Toro inspired visual quality (autumnal colours mostly) combine with the interesting premise to produce one of the better horror films of recent years even if there are a few too many unfortunately silly moments.

Director: Andrés Muschietti
Release Date: 22nd February
Running Time: 78minsapprox
Certificate: 15

3 stars


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