"When is Mama coming to theaters? I want it to be released so I don't have to watch those freaky trailers anymore." That's a question/statement I've received multiple times over the last week, and one that really says it all: the trailers for Mama are some of the scariest to hit theaters in a long time. However, the more important question is: does Mama live up to the marketing?
The movie is about two little girls who are stranded in the woods and raised for five years by a crazy mental patient chick who died 150 years earlier. When they are finally found and adopted by their uncle and his girlfriend (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Jessica Chastain), the girls are feral, walk on all fours and are just all around creepy.
Then again, the crazy mental patient chick who died 150 years earlier is sort of creepy, too, because, you see, she's jealous and shit that her children have real parents now. And like all crazy mental patient chicks who died 150 years earlier, she kills easily and is hard to kill (though how come no one ever actually tries to punch these evil ghosts in the face?).
Mama is scary until it isn't, and is exactly what you'd expect from a horror movie of this nature. Well, maybe not exactly.
First, the movie stars Jessica Chastain, who is currently the frontrunner to win Best Actress at this year's Academy Awards. Second, Mama has some legitimately scary moments. Third, while it has a run-of-the-mill story, it at least tries to be different.
Chastain is above average for the typical scream queen, but that's no surprise. I'd say the same about Coster-Waldau, but he spends most of the time dead (don't worry, that isn't actually a spoiler), unconscious or wandering around in the woods.
More importantly, Mama is scary, at least for half the movie. The early scenes with the girls had people looking into their laps and giggling out of fright. Not me, of course. The people all around me. Even a few moments with the crazy mental patient chick who died 150 years earlier caused a few hairs to stand on end.
Again, the people around me.
Unfortunately, like so many horror movies that involve ghosts (and how many movies involve ghosts who are crazy mental patient chicks who died 150 years earlier?), Mama loses its edge as time progresses. The girls start acting more normal, and director Andrés Muschietti commits the cardinal sin by showing way too much of the crazy mental patient chick who died 150 years earlier way too early. The visual effects are good, but after a while you're still left watching something that was made on a computer.
He also employs a too few many cheap scares.
Mama is presented by Guillermo del Toro and takes on a weak del Toro vibe toward the end as things get weird rather than scary; the climax is unexpected, which is fine, but not particularly good. The ending works thematically, but that doesn't make it any more satisfying. Muschietti needed to take things to the extreme and let them go haywire, or deliver a simple, standard ending. Instead, he ends up in horror movie purgatory.
Either way, the last act of Mama isn't scary, and a horror movie has one purpose: to scare the living shit out of you. Mama manages to do this for a while, but only for a while. You could do worse, but Mama's terrifying trailers promise more than it can give.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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