A truly great horror movie depends on a few key factors; the ability to maintain suspense, pervert the otherwise innocent and to exploit the audience’s fears. The new horror movie Mama, directed by Andres Muschietti, produced by Guillermo Del Toro, and starring Jessica Chastain, does all of these for the majority of the film, yet still leaves something to be desired. Check out our advance review of this new release.
Our story opens to Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse, the two children who play Victoria and Lilly respectively. Their father, in the aftermath of the economic downturn, murders his two business partners and his estranged wife. He then kidnaps his daughters and takes them to a cabin in the woods where he intends to murder both them and commit suicide. However, before he can, a mysterious ghostly figure captures and kills him. Then, it proceeds to care for and nurture the children for the next five years. They are then found by private investigators hired by their uncle. However, their maternal ghoul guardian accompanies them, with often terrifying results.
The absolute strongest facet of this horror movie is by far the acting of each of the characters. Jessica Chastain, who plays Annabel, is the girlfriend of the child’s uncle. Her character as both a reluctant mother figure and girlfriend never waivers; even as there is growth and development as her relationship with the girls evolve. However, the strongest performances are from the children. All too often, child actors don’t have the pure acting ability to carry a story and therefore remove the audience from the story. Here, the young ladies are actually a great strength to the film.
The original factor to the movie is just how much of the ghost we actually see. The typical MO for this kind of horror movie is to insinuate that a ghost might be there and hint to a multitude of things as the ghost gains in strength in power. Here, we are shown the ghost interacting with girls from the moment they set foot in the house until the very end. We are shown every detail of the ghost, including her different levels of power and abilities, and as such, there is a near constant sense of fear and suspense as the audience is aware that Mama is lurking around every corner.
Still, a great something is left to be desired from this film. The entire third act seems completely ludicrous and, although there won’t be any spoilers here, rest assured it is more than enough to taint the entire progress of the story up until that point. However, it is still a somewhat successful conclusion in that it does elicit a definitive, potent emotional response. The downside is that despite the strength of the emotion in the scene, it is completely subsided by the inane nature of the setting and flow of events leading up to the conclusion.
The original idea of showing Mama at the film’s onset to establish a terrifying sense of suspense backfires in the conclusion. The greatest ally to fear is the unknown; once you acquire more knowledge about a creature or an event, there is less of a fear of it. With the audience able to spend most of the film’s 100 minute runtime not only able to see Mama but get a full grasp on what her powers are capable of doing, the result is that by the climax her presence is met with a fascination and intrigue instead of terror. With a convolution of undertones and emotions within each scene, Mamajust doesn’t live up to its full potential. Sure, it’s scary in the beginning, but by the end of the story, there are actually attempts to make the object of our terror into a sympathetic creature that completely negates said fear.
The acting is stellar, and the amount of suspense is palpable for the first two acts. By the 70-minute mark, however, characters start to act in a very clichéd manner and there are several glaring plot holes that undermine the already fragile integrity of this story. There is significant entertainment to be had here, but it is clearly not for everyone. Two stars out of four.
In theaters January 18th, watch the Mama movie trailer here.