I’m always up for a good scare at the movies and I thoroughly enjoy Guillermo del Toro’s work so I was excited to see this one. I went in with high hopes, but realistic expectations, because horror is tricky. A good horror flick should be extreme, but not corny and scary, but not stupid; it has to make the right impression above all. I’m pretty open-minded, so you can throw a lot at me and I’ll be willing to watch. Hell, I sat through Audition and Irreversible more than once so clearly, I’m up for almost anything, cinematically speaking.
Mama starts out gruesomely from scene one. We meet Victoria and Lilly, as they are being unknowingly kidnapped by their father and taken to a rotting cabin in the woods. Emotional horror is central to the beginning of the story with alarming, eerie and menacing visuals ushering us through the intricacies of human nature, experience and the supernatural.
Victoria is three (Maya Dawe – Young Victoria) and Lilly (Sierra Dawe – Young Lilly) is one; scared and confused, they are left to raise themselves in this forgotten cabin. Fortunately, their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has searched relentlessly for his lost nieces since the day they were taken. Years later Lucas finds his nieces and does everything in his power to keep them close.
Stunned that the girls are both alive after so much time, they’re immediately taken to a doctor to be prepared for evaluation and study. Animalistic and still frightened, the girls eventually move in with uncle Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain). Now back in a suburban home and living with family, the girls progress slowly. Annabel, who is the least mature and prepared for this experience, must ultimately see to it that the girls find closure and safety.
Guillermo del Toro is an expert at transforming scary into beautiful, intriguing and heart wrenching. As the executive producer of Mama, he clearly helped director, Andrés Muschietti develop a visual experience that makes a strong impression. Mama is a satisfying mixture of Latin American urban legend, traditional ghost story and psychological thriller.
Children are at the center of this story as they tend to be in del Toro tales and both the younger and older Victoria and Lilly were cast precisely. The younger actors (Maya and Sierra Dawe) in the beginning of the film were fascinating to watch. Maya Dawe, especially, left me amazed, displaying an absurd amount of talent for such a small child. Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse were also absorbing in their rolls as the older girls throughout the rest of the film. I am sincerely impressed with all four actors as their performances kept me thoroughly invested in their tragic tale right through to the end.
The story is tragic and feels bitingly current. The visuals are innovative and clearly influenced by modern Asian horror. All contributing factors add up to a good time at the movies. While most certainly better than the average scare, Mama doesn’t make a lasting impact. Not to worry, the ride is fun even if it doesn’t change your life.
Mama (2013) – C+
C+ = This is a pretty good time and you should give it a whirl. You never know, you might enjoy it more than you think going in. It has its pitfalls, but overall worth your time.
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