Horror movies are indeed a genre that is always a hit or miss for me. Sometimes they deliver the chills they intend, but many of the modern scary films are filled with too much cheesiness to make me jump or shriek in terror. So once again I went to my local theater to check out the latest Hollywood horror entitled Mama, starring one of my favorite actresses Jessica Chastain. Like so many of her films, I looked forward to being entertained by the lovely redhead and hopefully by the movie as well. So what does this movie have in store for you? Read on to find out.
From my experiences, many horror films today prefer to use the art of making people jump with things suddenly appearing out of nowhere. While some directors know how to pull this off, many give away the surprise jump with camera work and audio tricks to warn you when something is coming. Guillermo del Toro’s films though throw in some of these scenes, but instead focuses on another scare factor that affects me a little more: creepiness. Yes my friends Mama is creepy indeed using a combination of many things to create a world that has a good chance of giving you goose bumps. One factor that was a major contributor to the scare factor was the use of shadows. From the very start of the movie the houses are covered in shadows hiding the mysteries from within. In some cases, the camera is pitch black with only the haunting sounds and shifting shades to give insight into what lurks within. Yet many scenes involve using various sources of lights to provide a false sense of security that leaves you wondering if something will happen, which sometimes happens and sometimes doesn’t. This unpredictable behavior kept the tension high for me and kept me wondering just where the movie was going. Of course these techniques would be nothing if it weren’t for the human imagination. What I mean is that hiding Mama’s true form for most of the movie allowed my mind to paint a picture of the specter that lurked within the halls and walls. Oh sure a few glimpses of her here and there provided some input, but there was still enough mystery left to allow me to envision some horrible nightmarish creatures.
Of course once Mama’s form was revealed it didn’t agree with my imagination, but surprisingly still was quite a sight to see. The dislocated joints, malnourished limbs, and disproportional faces were painted with a sickly brown color that gave it an added touch of realism to send tingles down your spine. Unfortunately some of the scenes relied too much on the CGI to bring her to life and her exaggerated movements blurred into mediocre CGI effects. What they lacked in the looks department though was made up for in the way Mama moved. At first nothing more than distant floats and occasional bursting out of the wall, Mama’s behavior quickly evolved into something I hadn’t seen in a while. The damage to her body gave it incredible flexibility that allowed her to contort into numerous positions that had the audience screaming in horror despite how fake it looked. For me though the scariest movement was her rapid dislocated walk she performed as she reached out to grab the little girl at the same time.
A few additional creep factors had to be the little girl Lilly and the background music. Lilly is the creepier of the two sisters as her silent demeanor and large eyes are a combination that will affect most. Most of the movie involves her stalking around the house, watching from the shadows silently like a creature on the prowl. When someone confronts her she says little as her large eyes seem to peer into your soul to shake your core. As for the music factor, well it’s nothing spectacular, but it fits well with the scenes of the movie. The piano in particular provides a spectrum of sounds to match the emotions sometimes implying doom, while other times giving an extra sound that somehow provides the desired effect.
Besides creepiness though, this movie doesn’t have many unique strengths that boost is score. The acting is fine, with Chastain once again doing a nice job with her part, but other than sounding and staring creepily at the camera there wasn’t much to comment on. Many of the characters were fine and had a little more development than I expected in a horror movie, yet their development was very linear and predictable despite the emotion they portrayed. As for the story, it still falls into one of the tried and true plots that have been overused in Hollywood. However, the way the story was developed was entertaining and well done in my opinion. Instead of Chastain and the gang making random discoveries, the history of Mama was uncovered through a series of dreams, research, and hypnotic interviews with one of the girls. While it certainly isn’t the best, I did enjoy the nice change in the delivery. Of course the ending was a little odd and took away some from the movie. While I know it was supposed to be sort of a symbolic wrap up, but didn’t agree with the mood/setting the rest of the movie set up. The prolonged scene also dragged on a bit too much as well, and didn’t deliver the nice wrap up I was hoping for.
Mama is a horror movie that does its job right. Keeping it PG-13 was indeed the right decision as it allowed the crew to make a movie that could mess with your head instead of drenching the screen in gore. Wondering if it is worth seeing in theaters? I’ll say it is, but more for the horrifying screams and sounds, instead of actually story. I also wish people precautions as this movie may have some flashing light moments that may cause seizures if not careful. My scores for Mama are the following:
Movie Overall: 6.5-7.0