Movie Review: Mama (2013)
Whenever my cousin comes over, we’d have horror movie nights where we would just watch any scary movies we can find and scare the living crap out of ourselves and make it really difficult for us to sleep , and it’s become this ritual almost, only it doesn’t involve human sacrifice or anything, just plain-old scary fun. One night, he went over and told me about this movie called Mama and being a horror movie junkie, I was slightly embarrassed that I hadn’t heard of it before. As it turned out, my favorite director, Guillermo Del Toro, was executive producer of the movie and I absolutely loved The Orphanage and liked, to some extent, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, so I’d decided that I had to see it. In the middle of it all, he also told me to watch this short film that the movie was based on and I told him sure because I’m obsessed with short films as well, so I turned off all the lights, put on my headphones, and pressed play.
I think I gave myself a small heart-attack and I almost needed a new netbook, but after seeing the short, I was completely sold. I needed to watch this movie.
So yesterday, I went to go see it and I’m very happy to say that it exceeded all of my expectations.
First of all, this movie is marketed as a horror movie, and of course, it’s scary and disturbing and all that good stuff, but at its core, this movie is depressing as hell. Seriously, I left the theater feeling more sad than scared, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t do its job, because it did, wonderfully. The premise is simple enough, and Muscietti transformed his short film into one filled with haunting beauty and a dark, almost claustrophobic atmosphere, which I very much enjoyed.
One of the strongest points of the movie is the visual direction, and I was pleased to experience it first on a large movie screen because I got to see the tiny little details that makes it absolutely gorgeous. I’m one of those people who finds beauty in abandoned, desolate places like graveyards, decrepit houses, and old hospitals, and this movie capitalizes on its visual imagery very much, with dark corridors swallowed by creeping shadows and a run-down house distorted by age, and it’s reminiscent of Ringu and The Grudge with the sheer creepiness of some of the scenes.
Another great achievement in the visual department is making the character of Mama come to life. In the short film, we only get a small glimpse of her twisted silhouette, which, by the way, is enough to give me nightmares for a few days, but in the movie, we actually get to see her face in some of the scenes, see the way her bones crack and break into themselves as she advances, see the graceful way her hair falls around her like she’s swimming underwater. This combination makes her character very scary but also very beautiful in a dark, twisted way, and despite being CGI most of the time, it’s still a thrill to watch her move around whenever she pops out into the screen. Her movements also have similarities with Kayako from Ju-On and Regan from The Exorcist, how she moves almost spider-like with sharp angles and quick, skittering movements. I guess that’s what makes this movie so beautiful—it’s not that it stole from these movies, but because it used the aspects that makes them so great and incorporated them into the story, and I thought that it was a very smart decision.
Visual imagery aside, one of the things that carried this movie was the acting. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau completely tore me apart in the beginning and, really, bless him and his beautiful face. Jessica Chastain absolutely shone in this movie, taking on the role of a rough-and-tough rocker chick with a heart of gold and completely immersing herself in the character. Her performance was consistently great from beginning to end and she’s definitely someone I’ll be watching out for from now on. The girls Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse also held their own, Megan showing exceptional growth in her character and Isabelle mastering the movements and behavior of a child raised in the wild. And a special shout out goes to Javier Botet for making Mama so freaking scary, and also because he played the Medeiros Girl from REC 2, which I loved as well.
Some cons for this movie include the pacing, which went too slow at parts for my tastes, and predictability, but they’re both easily overlooked when looking at the movie as a whole and are only a minor inconvenience that will vary from person to person and by no means should deter you from seeing this movie.
All in all, this is how a ghost story should be done—balancing horror with beauty and having a simple but effective story without losing out on performance or imagery. It’s definitely one of the prettier horror movies in recent times (and I know that pretty and horror don’t really belong in the same sentence but if you see this movie then you will know what I’m talking about) and it was a thrill to watch. If you like creepy atmospheres, great acting, and breathtaking visual imagery, then this movie is for you.
4 STARS OUT OF 5