Directed by Andres Muschietti.
Starring Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Isabelle Nélisse and Megan Charpentier.
Annabel and Lucas are faced with the challenge of raising his young
nieces that were left alone in the forest for 5 years... but how alone
Since seeing Andres Muschietti's Mama, the one question I've been asked is: 'is it as scary as the trailer?' And the answer to that is more or less the same to the question 'is the film any good' which is, 'sort of'.
With Guillermo del Toro as executive producer, Mama has received a lot of attention from the horror community and on the surface that makes a lot of sense. The story, while a little far fetched, is quite engaging and the image of 'scary looking children doing creepy things' is bound to interest those who enjoy watching movies through their finger tips. The problem Mama has is that it only really has one gimmick and it tries to exploit it to the nth degree.
Although the occasional glimpses of the titular Mama can be quite terrifying, it gets old quite quickly. Muschietti does do a lot to avoid using the 'jump scare' method of horror filmmaking that most other directors succumb to, but he does have to scrape the bottom of that barrel and use it as the film doesn't have anything other than scare attempts. As soon as one 'scary' scene ends, another one begins which means that any form of true character development takes a back seat. The main issue with this is the law of diminishing returns. I'll come onto the ending in a bit, but the more we see of Mama the less scary she becomes.
The other problem the film has is that the story gets a little too convoluted for its own good and the now standard Basil Exposition scene did get a few titters from the audience. The film just reaches a point where everything feels forced and the ending itself is more laughable than it is scary. Muschietti does a good job of keeping Mama in the shadows with some clever camera choices but her final reveal is incredibly anti-climatic because her design isn't all that good, which does slightly ruin the tension and drama of the story.
However, where Mama shines is from its central performances from reluctant mother Jessica Chastain and eldest daughter Megan Charpentier. Chastain in particular gives an outstanding performance and of the little character development the film has, she certainly has the most. As the oldest of the two daughters, Charpentier has a lot to do as she acts as the mouth piece for herself, her sister and Mama and she does so with incredible skill. Had the film not had these two fantastic performances, it would have been safe to say that Mama is a bit of a dud - but these two stellar actors carry the movie to the final reel. That's not to say everyone else is bad, but they more or less fill their roles as opposed to sell the movie like Chastain and Charpentier.
And while I criticised the movie for its cheap scare tactics, there are some genuinely creepy moments which did have me slightly on edge. There is one scene in particular with the youngest daughter Lily playing in her room that really caught me off guard and is probably my favourite image from the movie. Had there been more moments like this and had they been spread out, this could have been an effective movie.
Which leads us to the big question - is the film scary? Well, personally I wasn't scared and I didn't feel the need to hide behind my hands, however there were a few moments that did scare the audience I was in with one woman in particular screaming at several points of the movie. I do think Mama will have an effect on some because the image of creepy children doing creepy things is genuinely unsettling, but I don't think Muschetti has done enough to scare 100% of the movie's audience.
I did like Mama to a degree, but I wish I liked it more than I did. It's been a long time since the horror community was treated to a genuine scary movie and this doesn't quite cut the mustard. Aside from two outstanding performances and a couple of interesting visuals, Mama has little else to offer and its ridiculous plot could leave certain members of the audience howling with laughter rather than cowering in fear.
Flickering Myth Rating - Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Luke Owen is one of the co-editors of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @CGLuke_o.