Mama * * *
Director: Andy Muschietti.
Screenplay: Andy Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti, Neil Cross.
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet, Jane Moffat, Morgan McGarry, David Fox, Hannah Cheeseman.
After producing the disappointing “Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark” in 2011, Guillermo del Toro lends his name – and financial services – to another American horror production, which is actually an elaboration of the 2008, three minute short, “Mamá” by the same Argentine director Andrés Muschietti. For the most part, del Toro has wisely chosen a director to invest in, but like so many before him, he fails to deliver the ultimate punch that’s so important in this particular genre.
A father (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), seemingly in a state of desperation abducts his two young daughters and flees with them to a remote cabin in the woods. His intention is to kill them but before he does, a dark entity interjects and kills him instead. For years afterwards, the father’s twin brother (Coster-Waldau again) searches for his nieces and eventually finds them. They have went feral and claim to have been looked after by something they refer to as “Mama”. However, when they head back to civilisation, “Mama” has no intentions of leaving them alone.
Let me just start by saying that “Mama” is a very frustrating movie. When I say frustrating, I don’t mean bad, as this film can’t quite be labeled as such. It has many things to recommend it; the deliberate pace; the teasing build up; freaky children; the spectre only hinted at or briefly glimpsed. Director Andrés Muschietti (or Andy as he’s credited) certainly knows how to build tension and raise the goosebumps. He does it so commandingly and assembles two impressive lead actors that are at the forefront of everyone’s minds at present; the ubiquitous, two-time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastian and rising “Games Of Thrones” star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau – not to mention two excellent child actors in Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse, but (forgive me if I’m mistaken here) is the role of executive producer not to produce, or oversee, the financial side of a film, allowing a director to fully express their vision and help with the distribution of the product? If that’s the case, then Guillermo del Toro can certainly be seen to have done his side of the bargain on the latter half, as this has reached quite an impressive audience, but on the the former he has to come under scrutiny. When this film is forced into delivering the visuals, they seem cheap and really not up to the standard that a more sophisticated audience are accustomed to. The finale is delivered in such a way that it strips the whole film of the good work that went before – Namely, revealing the ghost too much and too soon. When will filmmakers – particularly those in the horror genre – learn, that less is more? It’s not necessary for us to witness the antagonist in full view and allow our minds to be force fed, when it worked so much better when we were kept in the dark. In fairness, it’s a poorly written denouement that still falls at the feet of director Muschietti, who co-writes with Neil Cross and sister Barbara Muschietti. They construct a brilliant horror concept with an effective, mother/daughter emotional core, but are simply unable to bring it to any satisfying conclusion. That’s exactly where the frustration lies; this film had so much going for it, that it leaves you in disbelief that it’s all squandered in contrivances and poor CGI, which ultimately leaves you with the overriding feeling that not all short film’s have the ability or mileage for a feature length endeavour.
For the most part, this is a very effective and engaging modern horror but like so many from recent times, it fails to deliver when it really matters. Here’s some advice from your “Dada“… expect less and you’ll receive more.