Wednesday, January 30, 2013

MAMA (2013) movie review

Mama (2013) (1st viewing) d. Muschietti, Andreas (Spain)

After he goes on a shooting spree, two young girls are kidnapped by their kookoo papa, ultimately ending up in a wooded cabin that turns out to not be so very deserted after all. Pater says “later,” and through an effective child’s drawing credits sequence (echoes of Children of the Corn’s three decades prior), the tykes transform from lovely lasses to rail-thin Gollum understudies.

This unnecessary CGI stunt somewhat mars the scenes of the feral duo finally being discovered by a search party and delivered into the hands of The State (personified by duplicitous doc Daniel Kash); it’s unfortunately not the last keyboard generated boo-boo writer/director Muschietti and exec-producer Guillermo del Toro will commit before the credits roll.

The girls are finally awarded to their dedicated uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), but it soon becomes clear that Jessica Chastain (aka That Chick From Every Movie These Days) will be our primary protagonist as their tattooed, eye-linered, bass-playing, raven-wigged reluctant stepmom. (As in just about everything I’ve seen Miss Thang do over the past few years, she’s wildly versatile and perfectly capable but hardly revelatory. I know, I know, strong words for our soon-to-be Best Actress winner, but I calls ’em as I sees ’em.)

Tagging along with the newly ’dopted nippers is the titular phantasmagorical mummy – I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that she’s a ghost; this is del Toro, after all – who cared for them during their forest tenure and doesn’t take much of a shine to these attractive Hollywood types putting their paws all over her pups.

As with any ghost story, there’s a mystery to be unraveled and poltergeisty events to unfold, both of which play out fine. But when will filmmakers finally realize that CGI ghosts JUST AREN’T SCARY? In any good ghost story from the dawn of cinema, the terror comes from what is unseen, folks. I know, it’s hard to accept, but it’s just the facts. If last year’s The Woman in Black taught us anything, it should have been that.

And if your onscreen spirit must take corporeal shape, it’s always best for it to be recognizably human, n’est pas? (Just take a look at Muschietti’s original short film upon which the feature is based for evidence.)

Ultimately, this is a fair spookfest, with admirable performances all around (especially our younger set, Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse), but the most effective sequences are where Muschietti is getting his creep on as opposed to when he’s spending del Toro’s dough on superfluous spirits.


  1. A del Toro movie that completely devolves into a bland CG-fest? I don't believe it.