Sunday, January 20, 2013

Movie Review: Mama (2013)

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nelisse
Directed by: Andres Muschietti
Executive Producer: Guillermo del Toro
Language: English
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 100 minutes
Synopsis from IMDB: Annabel and Lucas are faced with the challenge of raising his young nieces that were left alone in the forest for 5 years.... but how alone were they? 

Going into Mama, I had high hopes for it to be a rather scary horror. After all, the basis was a three minute short film that held the potential to be expanded into something great. I've included the short film below because even viewing it won't spoil the actual expanded film. Guillermo del Toro has the ability to be a decent director as we've witnessed in the Hellboy franchise and Pan's Labyrinth. His attention to detail in bringing the characters and worlds of those films to life was quite great. Sadly, his production choices in the science fiction/horror realm are very lackluster. Did you see Don't be Afraid of the Dark? What about Splice? With that thought aside, we have to focus on the film itself.

Mama (2008, short film)
The film opens with a car parked oddly and left empty in front of a house. Commentators on the car's radio mention that two executives at a firm have been murdered while the third is missing. The camera pans to a very young girl standing in a room with a bed and a crib. A loud sound is heard downstairs (presumably a gunshot) and her father comes in to collect his daughters. The eldest girl asks where her mother is. We can assume that the father has murdered the mother as he's clearly distraught. 
He puts both girls in the car and drives away. An accident, from driving too fast on a snowy road, causes the car to slide off into the forest. The father then takes the girls to an abandoned hunting cabin. It seems as though no one has lived there for quite some time. Victoria, the eldest daughter, notices a woman outside. He pays no attention and starts a fire before breaking down. What did we expect to happen when he's just murdered three people? The man prepares to murder his daughters and then himself, but the figure the eldest girl noticed appears...
Five years later, Lucas (father's brother) and his girlfriend are living in a small apartment. Annabel is quite relieved to learn that she's not pregnant. It seems that they've been exhausting their funds to search for his missing family. The search is still ongoing with Lucas hoping that they will be recovered. We learn that he's a starving artist while his girlfriend is a rock musician. Neither are ideal parents as their finances and situation would make such an effort difficult. Low and behold, the search team find the car and the cabin with two very wild, very animalistic little girls inside. How did the children survive for all that time?
The girls are taken to a psychiatric facility where they are evaluated for 87 days before their custody is decided on. This was the beginning of the biggest plot hole for me. These children were wild. They were frightened and clearly not ready for social interaction. Yet, apparently it was long enough to try to incorporate them back into civilization. Lilly, the youngest, sleeps under her bed. She prefers to eat on the floor with her hands when she's not chowing down on moths. The little one barely talks past grunts and other sounds. Victoria, who was old enough to be in at least kindergarten, has retained a lot of her vocabulary and seems to pick things up fast. Even so, what doctor or court would rightly believe that throwing these two children out into the world would be the right thing to do?
Enter the cliched jump scares in with the slow pacing of the psychiatrist still trying to hypnotize Victoria and strange things beginning to happen. Mama is a jealous being even if the doctor believes that she's all a part of Victoria's mind. The girl knows things she couldn't have known. This must mean something paranormal. The doctor begins to research Victoria's stories and leads us to a pointless character that informs us about the nature of ghosts. While this is happening, Annabel has begun to bond with the children. If you're wondering where Lucas went, don't worry about him. The father and uncle aren't really anything more than a means to an end. The father was only introduced to get the girls to the cabin and bring the uncle back into the action later on.
The film is mainly about the tug of war between the females in the film. Annabel wants to help the girls and keep them from Jean (their mother's sister) who wants custody. Mama wants the girls for herself, resorting to violence against anyone who stands in her way. The flashbacks that explain Mama's origins are confusing. You're left to rely on what little information you can infer to understand what has happened. Those were key points that would have made Mama a sympathetic figure. You know...if it wasn't for murdering people to keep the girls among other things.
By the time the film was ending, I was left wondering what had happened. The girls were left with a choice of one mother figure over another. Could they be saved from this entity? The last five minutes seemed to move too quickly compared to the slow pace of the rest of the film. The resolution made me want to throw something at the screen. It wasn't what I was expecting at all and actually left me feeling a little let down. If only those plot points had been used rather than becoming black holes to suck everything down... If you can get past the plot holes and odd cgi, Mama wasn't a bad film. The desire to protect the children drove both the ghostly mother and the reluctant human one. It could have been expanded on and made into something much deeper than it was. The idea was interesting, but the translation from idea to screen was very lackluster. Several scenes from the trailer were also cut out of the final film. I wonder if those scenes would have made a difference to the outcome had they been left in. I'd recommend waiting for dvd.
Rating: 2/5

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