Guillermo del Toro has written, directed and produced some beautiful dark fantasy films such as “Pan’s Labyrinth” and comic-based movies such as “Blade II” and “Hellboy,” but his most recent producer project, “Mama,” is straight up horror movie. The film, which premiered Friday, eviscerated the competition at the box office to kick off the weekend, with a $10 million opening day. It also happened to be the second week topping the box office for star Jessica Chastain, who reigned supreme in earnings last weekend with her Oscar-nominated performance in “Zero Dark Thirty.” Not to mention that whole Golden Globes Award last week for Best Actress.
What a showoff that one is, don’t you think?
And she’s at it again with her performance as a brunette, garage-band bassist turned guardian angel in “Mama.” The film centers on two little girls who are abandoned in a cabin in the wild after a family tragedy, and have to survive on their own a few years.
Well… almost on their own. Enter the aforementioned “Mama.” And this is one bad mother.
Mama adopts the two orphan girls and doesn’t take too kindly when their uncle’s search team finds them, and takes them off to a psychiatric institute. And while the older girl seems to be adapting back to civilization, the younger one… not so much.
They eventually go home with their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his other half, Annabel (Chastain) creating some friction in their formerly childless relationship. But they don’t come home alone, as Mama tags along, which creates a bit of another problem, such as Mama coming through the walls to play with the little girls when Chastain isn’t looking or hiding in the closet. And that rather nasty bit when Mama decides to push Lucas down the stairs to dispatch him to the hospital for awhile.
Someone did not learn to share or play nice with others in school.
Then Chastain incurs Mama’s wrath when she starts winning over the eldest daughter, and things start to really go downhill from there. Likewise, the relationship between the two sisters becomes strained when they begin to polarize into different camps of “Team Annabel” and “Team Mama.”
“Mama” has some genuinely creepy moments, and of course, those moments that’ll make you jump out of your seat a little. Hey, it’s mandatory for horror film to go for the quick scares. But there is certainly an artistry in the more subtle moments of the film, as well, with a dare-I-say-it “tearjerker” ending?
Hey, there’s no crying in horror movies — that’s just not right. But it is, for this movie anyway.
And that’s the quality that separates this film from many horror films, unfortunately. Most lack a real grasp of the human element, and real emotion, but instead, go for cheap “jump-out-and-go-BOO” thrills. Thankfully, “Mama” bucks that bad trend. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when have top-rate acting with the likes of an Academy Award nominee, and a great cast to fill out the rest of the roles. (It’s amazing the job Isabelle Nélisse does playing a feral six year-old that’s just too far gone to bring back from the wild.) But, sure enough, early reviews of the movie focus mostly on Chastain and are already hailing her performance, deservedly so.
But the primary critique of the film would be the CGI animation of the main character, which is not a very good example of the art, to say the least. And as any horror aficionado knows, there will be audience members who laugh inappropriately during horror movies under any circumstances, and bad CGI just encourages them and gives them an excuse.
But bad horror film etiquette is a whole other topic… don’t even get me started on that.
It’s particularly ironic about the bad CGI as producer del Toro began his career as a makeup artist, and this film screams for a more organic monster, made in real life with makeup. It begs for a monster with as much substance — and humanity — as its actors.
In that regard, “Mama” falls short. But it’s still a whole lot better than the usual horror fare.