Yes; the latest Guillermo del Toro-produced PG-13 horror film Mama is as bad as it looks. It’s actually much worse. Newcomer director Andres Muschietti adapts his own short-film into a full-length with the help of his writing team of Barbra Muschietti and Neil Cross. The result is a horrid film that relies on extended amounts of boring nothingness to keep it moving. Mama comes preloaded with dozens of cheap jump-scares and by cheap I mean the CGI is hideously done and at several points laughably bad. The only saving grace is an against-type performance by Jessica Chastain, but even her black hair and punk-rock getup can’t keep this train from derailing.
A tragedy opens the film with a depressed father kidnapping his kids and heading out for the forest. He crashes the car and he and the kids find an abandoned cabin home to warm up in. They enter the damp and beaten down house thinking that they’re alone, but they soon find out another “thing” is already occupying the area.
Fast forward five years later and an uncle by the name of Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is still tirelessly looking for his brother and his two little girls. He’s all but given up hope until one day the girls are found and brought home. These kids are in rough shape and you can’t blame them after living alone in the wilderness for five years.
Lucas takes full custody under the circumstance that he moves to a new house so that the doctor can keep a close eye on the children. With Lucas is his punk-rock girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain). Annabel doesn’t exactly want children, but she’s a loving and committed girlfriend, so she agrees to move into the house and help take care of the children.
Things instantly turn sour as a supernatural presence makes itself known to the girls and eventually Annabel and Lucas. It’s a motherly figure with a hidden past that’s slowly revealed as the film clunks and stalls its way to an eventual ending that I’d like to deem bullshit of the highest order.
Mama is barely frightening, with only a few instances that truly sneak up on you. The rest of the film can be described only as a heaping pile of garbage. Producer Guillermo del Toro usually picks projects that have chilling atmospheres and slow, but always scary build-ups. Mama clearly doesn’t fit into the regular del Toro standard, because it’s lacking that thick atmosphere that so many del Toro films possess. This problem falls onto the director Andres Muschietti and his lack of focus on the story or mood.
One moment Mama feels like it’s building up towards a tense reveal and then the next it simply throws jump-scare after jump-scare at you, without ever earning your screams. What makes matters even worse is the CGI and how poorly rendered it is. The character of Mama almost always looks completely fake and nonthreatening, which makes it kind of hard to be the least bit worried whenever the character creeps from a closet or comes walking awkwardly around the corner.
The ending is the aftermath of too many ideas getting thrown around at once. Not one of them lands or even attempts to smudge its way into the film. It’s all just a big ball of messy concepts that trade around for an hour and a half. The beginning hints at discovering the past and the ending more or less tells you not to worry about the story or its characters and to instead focus on the forced scares.
PG-13 horror films generally suck and Mama is no exception. I doubt an R-rating could have helped it out much. Mama is just a failure out of the gates and a perfect example of why some short films should stay short. Muschietti demonstrates his skills as a visual director, but the story just wasn’t enough to extend past a couple of minutes and I’m not sure if he just didn’t realize that or if he simply didn’t care, as long as Universal was writing him a big fat check.
Jessica Chastain can be described as the only saving grace of the film, but that’s even stretching it. She turns in an odd performance as the black-haired rocker Annabel. I enjoyed seeing Chastain again take on a role she’s never done before, but I spent most of the film almost distracted by her changes.
I hope I never have to sit through a film like Mama again. Jessica Chastain is talent that shouldn’t be wasted on horror films like Mama, because she’s got so much more to offer than a director like Andres Muschietti. Clearly Mama was nothing more than a chance for Muschietti to get his name out there, even if it meant delivering a flat and scare-free horror film.
Mama – 5/10