Before reading this review, there’s something that you should know about me: I’m one of the biggest cowards you’ll ever meet when it comes to scary movies, especially so with supernatural, scary flicks.
I saw “The Ring” at age 12, and I had to sleep with the lights on until I was around 14 years old—that’s how much of a chicken I am. So when I volunteered to review “Mama,” the latest scare-fest turned out by horror mastermind Guillermo del Toro, I was mentally steeling myself for at least one week of sleepless nights.
The premise is this: two sisters, five-year-old Victoria and one-year-old Lily, are abandoned in a cabin in the woods after their father has a mental breakdown and goes on a homicidal rampage.
It would appear that the little girls are doomed, until a mysterious figure they call “Mama” begins to care for them.
Fast-forward five years, and the girls are finally discovered. They have become almost completely feral during this period of isolation, and are both committed to a nearby psychiatric hospital.
After the girls are somewhat rehabbed, they are given into the care of their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his apprehensive girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain). It quickly becomes apparent, however, that the girls did not return from the cabin in the woods alone.
I was very disappointed in the film’s overall fear factor. There are some genuinely scary moments as the plot begins to build, mostly with Mama, supernatural phenomena, or simply a loud noise causes the viewer to jump in his or her seat.
The ghostly Mama is terrifying at first, when the viewer only catches brief, startling glimpses of her. However, when she is finally revealed, her appearance is so distorted and grotesque that it is actually (and surprisingly) laughable. The plot line begins to fall apart at the climax of the movie, becoming more and more disjointed until it eventually dissolves into complete ridiculousness. It’s clear by the end that rather than stay true to the original story, del Toro just wants to give some cheap scares.
There are some good points to the movie, though. First, I was relieved that the movie wasn’t filmed as a “found footage” piece (am I the only one who gets a little nauseous when watching those?). It’s good to see a classic horror movie set-up with clean, steady shots nowadays, a stand-out among all of the other shaky, grainy movies a la “Paranormal Activity.” Also, Chastain perfectly nailed her role as the sarcastic girlfriend with no shortage of attitude, but also a tender, protective side.
My suggestion is to take a pass on “Mama” and go see some of the many other excellent, Academy Award-nominated films currently playing in theaters. Or if you’re really in the mood for a scare, you could always try renting “The Ring.”