Guillermo del Toro has been my favourite director for years. Anything the man touches, even if it is only as “Guillermo del Toro Presents”, is met with hyperventilating levels of excitement.
Mama was no different although the casting of Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau did place what was essentially a 12A horror film onto a high and potentially shaky pedestal.
PLOT: Five years after the disappearance of his brother and young nieces Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) discovers that the girls, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily, (Isabelle Nelisse) are living in a rundown cabin. Lucas and his partner Annabel (Jessica Chastain) agree to care for the children but after Lucas is injured and left hospitalised it falls to a reluctant Annabel to raise them on her own. Once alone in the house with the children Annabel notices that their actions are being heavily influenced by their mysterious “Mama”. END PLOT
On paper Mama looks like generic horror fare with its creepy children, spooky happenings and secluded house however the film turned out to be of higher quality than expected.
There were times when the plotting felt familiar but it did make an effort to include some psychology and the feral nature of the children was very unsettling especially in the younger child Lily.
The scares were mostly cheap with the “silence vs loud bang” combination creating most of the jumps. Despite the lack of scares Mama was an able to create genuine tension and there were a few occasions when the film became downright stressful. It almost felt like I was watching a psychological thriller rather than a horror film.
When Mama finally made her appearance she was purely CGI and although she was definitely on the cheaper end of the scale the way that Mama moved and the noises she made meant that I couldn’t take my eyes of her.
Given that Mama had a modest budget of $15million (IMDB) the effects, set pieces and the overall cinematography was excellent.
Andres Muschietti should consider himself fortunate that del Toro spied his original Mama short and encouraged him to adapt it into a feature film. The fact that Mushietti has struck gold with his cast means that he has been truly blessed by the Cinema Gods.
Jessica Chastain, a favourite of mine, is excellent as Annabel who evolves from being relieved that a pregnancy scare proved to be false to risking her life to save the children that she has grown to love. Chastain is the lead but she is not burdened by carrying the film on her own as the supporting cast is ridiculously strong.
Unfortunately Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s screen time was limited and it also became a bit disjointed in the final arc due to some dodgy editing. When it was required his easy charm was always a welcome addition to the proceedings. He is also really, really, ridiculously, good looking.
As the story focuses heavily on the children it was important that the kids who played Victoria and Lily were up to the task. Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse were just as strong as their adult counterparts and it is their troubled characters that will play on my mind rather than Mama herself.
I can understand the argument that due to the lack of scares Mama could be considered watered down 12A horror but I completely disagree. The scares are few and far between but the psychological aspect of the film will linger long after the credits role. Mama gets a 7.5/10 – if the final act had tighter editing it would have scored much higher.