Film Review: Mama

Mama HeaderKeeping with the theme, I decided to take my own mom to the screening of Mama.  I’m not sure if she’s forgiven me yet.

I wish I could say this worry is from bringing my mom to something that scared her so deeply that she’s been suffering from a hallucination filled case of insomnia, but that’s not the case.  Drawing comparisons back to Japanese horror based films like The Grudge and The Ring, Mama is about a dysfunctional family thrown together when the daughters of Lucas’ twin brother are found after living in the woods for some time.  These two slowly assimilate back into the real world, with one noticeable tie back to their feral nature, a being they acknowledge as Mama.

The first time we see Mama she is masked in shadows and blurred vision, often sticking to distant points in the shots when she does make her appearance.  These darkened silhouettes are all well in good, but by films end we’ve seen enough of this supernatural being up close to know just how horrible she looks.  Part of that is a design choice based on her background, sure, but if you’re going to actually show the creature or spirit clearly in numerous scenes, you better make sure that the decision doesn’t come back to haunt you.  And please, it’s time to retire the sunken, melted faces from The Ring.  The design is tired.

This isn’t to say that the scenes she’s in aren’t effective; it’s just preferable that she can’t actually be seen in them.  The children diverting their gaze past the camera or their frequent humming was good for more than a few chills, and the best scene by far was when the youngest girl is playing tug of war with something off screen, with only a shadow as any indication as to what might be on the other end.  Had Mama stuck more to something like this, maybe it would still be tormenting me in the night, but unfortunately the strongest image from the movie is something laughably ridiculous.  Just picture a wig on the end of a string being tugged across the floor.

Even when considering the ghost in full view, the biggest offense of the film is that it brings up a psychological side to the story, only to abruptly drop it when the shrink studying the girls completely changes his belief system.  Maybe it was to add a doubt in the audiences mind about what was going on, especially when he mentions the possibility of a dissociative identity that could present an added layer of depth to these occurrences, but it just muddies the genre instead by spreading the story in so many different directions.  Not only that, but without the truth to the psychological side of things, the intro just sits there without fitting into the rest of the film.

By film’s end this is just another horror film with a ghost that moves like a shattered spider abruptly towards the camera, losing the little moments that made this stand out from the rest of the genre to the classic gimmicks of these Japanese influenced films.  Mama is good for a few jump scares, but you will be nowhere near crying out for your mother.

PS – If you are going to include a pet in a horror film, the director, script supervisor, or whoever better keep track of it at all times because you better believe the audience is.

Final grade: D+     

3 thoughts on “Film Review: Mama

  1. Going to have to disagree with you here. The film was very effective through out and came from a really interesting place. It might not quite work all the way, but it was almost a great movie.
    You seem so hung up on the character design, but I thought it looked genuinely unsettling outside a couple weak CG moments.
    The moment that you claim was “laughably ridiculous” was fully intended to be so, your better argument would be that it shouldn’t have been there at all. The aunt and even the dad were forced into finale of the film that would have been far better served just letting Chastain (who was great by the way) deal with the problem on her own. You could have folded in the husband more organicly and it wouild be ok, but having him show up where he does, at the direction of Mama, makes no sense.
    As to the psychological side of the story, I don’t see what the big deal is. What did they leave hanging? It was a tired technique to build an interesting backstory for Mama, but it almost seemed redundent given that Mama could show people things through dreams. Cut our the shrink and the aunt and give us more time with Lilly and Victoria’s prespective to get some back story and the movie is even more interesting and compelling at the end given some characters decisions.
    My biggest problem is that they betrayed Mama’s motivator at the end for one last confrontation that wasn’t as effective because we didn’t get enough time with Lilly. At its heart though I thought the ending was a really great idea. The film is also technically impressive if that counts for anything at all as well, minus some wonky CG stuff.

  2. There is no indication whatsoever that the laughably ridiculous wig was intended to be so, especially considering nothing else had that intention. Why would they intentionally undermine that moment? That’s like saying the last Twilight was tongue in cheek.

    What did you think of the beginning scene? Why give the father that intense of an intro and show he’s out of pills if you’re not going for a psychological angle with the child? That’s what felt weird to me, and left hanging. Especially when the shrink went that route of the girl has a split personality instead of being just like “kids have imaginary friends.” The shrink was stupid…

    1. Films always try to have comic relief in times of tensions, see Gimili in TTT and ROTK, and often times I agree it undermines the scene, see Gimili in TTT and ROTK, and it does here. The aunt is pointless to the whole film other then a slight driving force for Chastain to care. I believe this was an intentional shot at comedy because the cutaway to the aunt outside the house while all hell just broke loose was totally going for, lady you don’t know what the fuck you are about to get into. My audience was cracking up. And Breaking Dawn was tounge in cheek, I don’t see how you thought that movie took itself seriously.

      As for the dad taking the drugs, I took that as more of a reference to the wall street way of life and unstable nature of his character. He abused the drugs, he didn’t need them, and they are littearly thrown away making them something we shouldn’t look to deep into.

      As for the split personality thing, I think that was him just trying to figure things out and it was his logical way of explaining the alternate voice and the assumed physical interactions Lilly has been having.

      At least we agree on the best moment of the film, the other that’s not who you think it is moment late in the film was pretty great as well.

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