So, I sat myself down and watched “Mama“. It was….OK.
If this review is disjointed and rambling, it is perhaps because I am finding it hard to flat-out hate this movie, but I can’t really formulate any reason I shouldn’t.
I wanted to really like it. I didn’t. I wanted to find enough to snark about. I didn’t.
The movie had some faults, to be sure. I think it entertained as well, but I’m not even positive about that. But I think so. Sometimes I get caught up in analyzing and miss the pure fun. Then again, sometimes there isn’t any pure fun to be had.
This is a tale about a ghost, a house in the woods, and a couple of lost children. You may notice some familiar elements in there. Very familiar.
The problem with familiarity is that it puts a story under great pressure to either do something extremely well or add a bit of its own ingenuity. I’m not sure I got either of those here.
Normally, I fall pretty hard for something with Guillermo del Toro attached to it. Sadly, he only lends himself here as executive director. That isn’t enough to help this story.
The movie opens with a rather dramatic and totally inexplicable series of events. We had to get two very young girls out in the middle of a forest in a random dwelling where they wouldn’t be found for years. Apparently, just a few years back, Mercedes didn’t have GPS and cell phones couldn’t be tracked down when a crazed banker goes on a murder spree and absconds with his daughters to parts unknown.
Let’s explore this random cabin in the woods. It’s pretty spacious. Space-bendingly spacious given what it looked like from the outside. It has mod looking furniture. It is never explained. So be it. We all know those random cool houses in the woods with nifty fab furniture and giant picture windows (or sliding glass doors, I’m not even sure, I kept glossing over this point each time I went to check…nice view of the nothing though).
And then….there is the rest of it. You probably have some idea how that goes. Found. Something unpleasant follows them. New, unsuspecting caretakers are at a loss.
I will give the story credit for not having the adults continue to explain away the inexplicable. That gets tiresome. However, it goes almost entirely the other way. The ease and speed with which the mystery is unraveled is quite something. I guess we needed to get right to the action.
What about the meat of the story? The creepy horror movie things and stuff?
Not bad. The effects did the job. More of an exercise in the creepy strange than the creepy scary, but it worked. Kids are creepy strange by nature.
I could go on and on. So much of this movie just felt off kilter. The entity looked like the unholy union of Munch’s The Scream and Olive Oyl produced a mentally unstable un-lovechild. The cherry stones that have no purpose other than sheer weirdness for weirdness’ sake. The shoebox full of remains.
I spent an inordinate amount of time staring at Jessica Chastain as a short-haired brunette. Not that she looked anything other than dandy. It was just so striking different from the long-haired redhead I’m used to. I was transfixed. Presumably as transfixed as I should have been by the Screaming Olive at the heart of this ghostly mystery.
In the end, I had fun. The mystery wasn’t surprising, it was very much how these type of stories come to fruition. It wasn’t fun in the manner of well-placed hidden genre humor. It was, however, what it was supposed to be. A ghost story. An unfolding tale of strangeness.
There were no cats leaping out of closets at the peak of a scene’s tension. There was no ultra silly behavior. It was a straightforward tale executed, if not perfectly, at least by professionals. There were no gruesomely creative death scenes, but there was understated ghostly violence where it was supposed to be.
And in the finale, I got what I wanted. Or at least, what I expected they wouldn’t do, but should. At the moment when I expected a cop-out, the movie came through. A small thing, but appreciated, given how rare such a thing happens.
If you go into this movie with grand expectations, you will be disappointed. If you expect the type of failure that passes for ghostly horror in more recent years, you might just have a good time. Then immediately forget you ever saw it.
All the better to watch it again some late night after you’ve had two too many and can creepily and annoyingly whisper “mama….mama….mama…..mama….” as you drag some horror-loving friend through this film.