Friday, January 18, 2013
Mama (2013) - Movie Review
I know a lot of people really like Guillermo del Toro, but I'm starting to think his name attached to a movie is a sign that it's either going to be over-hyped, or it never sees the light of day. Mama was only produced by del Toro, but he got behind the project after seeing a short film by Andrés and Barbara Muschietti. For the feature film, Andrés directed and shared writing credit with Barbara and Neil Cross. Neil Cross you may know as the writer and director of Luther, which is an awesome BBC that I highly recommend you all check out, especially if you like Idris Elba. The fact Neil Cross was involved in the writing disappoints me all that much more with how this played out, but we'll get to that.
If you're interested, you can watch the original Mama short below. Don't worry, it won't spoil anything about the movie to watch it. It's mainly a version of a few things you saw in the trailer and doesn't have any of the story of the movie.
Mama has a tragic, effective setup. A man kills his wife (along with some co-workers) and kidnaps their two daughters. While speeding away on an icy road, they crash in the woods, and find small cabin. I thought this abandoned cabin was a little unusual as it seemed to be in pretty good condition, and looked like it was decorated in the late 1960's or early 70's. As the father is preparing to kill his kids, something intervenes and takes him away. Right away, this kind of surprised me as the evil in the movie is already revealed, and you have a good idea of what it looks like and know it can interact physically with the outside world.
The kids are left to fend for their own, but we all know that this 'Mama' is watching over them. Five years pass, and we meet Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) the twin brother of the man from the opening scene. He's been spending every dime he has trying to find any trace of his brother or nieces. I'm a little surprised it took five years to find them considering you'd think the police would have been looking for him, and his car couldn't have crashed that far from the road. Anyway, the kids are found in a feral state. The older of the two, Victoria (Megan Charpentier), was old enough when abandoned that she at least had some speech skills and remembers her father. However, the younger of the two, Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse), was too young to remember her parents and was raised only by her older sister and Mama.
After a short time of being studied by a psychiatrist Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash), the kids are sent home with Lucas and his rocker girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain). This was another unusual part of the film for me as Lucas and Annabel didn't have the funds to watch over the kids, but Dr. Dreyfuss puts them up in a house with the condition that he's allowed to still study them. It's not long before weird things happen around the house. Lucas is actually knocked into a coma really early on into the film, which leaves Annabel to watch the kids on her own, and she's already established that having kids isn't high on her list of things she wants.
Jessica Chastain, fresh of her Golden Globe win, elevates the material, but I felt like her character was a little too cliched. She plays bass in a band, all tatted up, and everything is dark about her. The fact that she was a musician in no way played into the plot at all. I did like the fact that her arc involved her getting over the fact she didn't want kids, but was forced to watch them and eventually bond and become a parental figure to them.
I also thought Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse were very good. There's a nice contrast between watching Victoria slowly acclimate back to normal life, while you can tell that something isn't right about Lilly. Lilly is eerie without having to say anything. The interaction between the two was kind of heartbreaking, especially towards the end.
Is Mama scary? Not really. The setup works for a bit and there are some good jump-scares, but the movie starts to rely on those too much. It's also a case of taking too long to get to the point. The more they reveal, the less effective it comes. The effects for Mama initially looked good, but it eventually turns into a really bad CG effect that took away anything that was scary about her. Towards the end people were laughing out loud at the events that played out, rather than being scared. These are the same people that were jumping early on.
It just all falls apart at the end. There are a lot of plot holes, and character decisions that didn't make any sense. They introduce things that aren't really followed up on, or would have resolved the movie sooner if they had been. Plus, there are some conveniences at the end that make it tie up too neatly. They try to explain why Mama was doing what she was doing, and it attempts to make her sympathetic, but I didn't feel that way. I won't spoil the end, but it had this almost fairy tale quality to it that just didn't fit the tone of the film. I also don't like it when a movie isn't consistent about it's mythology. Sometimes Mama is real, other times she's intangible, and it's not like she's invisible or can't be heard. Everyone is powerless to stop her, so why is there even a setup to what she's doing? She can get what she wants at any time.
Mama has an effective setup and some creepy moments, but the more they reveal, the more it falls apart. Sometimes it's better to leave things to the imagination, and that's probably Mama's biggest flaw. What could have been an effective ghost story, ended up being a really uneven film with an ending that didn't fit. It does have some strong performances, but that's about the most I can say about it. This is a rental.
2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars