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+ Follow @BewareOfTrees