Sunday, June 2, 2013

Movie Review: Mama (2013)

Seriously, does anybody know what "scary" means anymore? Or do I just believe in a different definition of the word? I loves me my little Guillermo Del Toro but some of the stuff he has been involved in lately have been real disappointments, Mama being one of them. I really wanted something truly creepy with this one, perhaps a la The Devil's Backbone, and many reviews promised me that my wish would come true. Sadly, Mama left me only bored and, again, disappointed with this ghost movie, when the mere mention of ghosts should have been enough to make me happy.

In Mama, two young girls who were abandoned at a remote cabin by their father after he shot their mother are found five years later by the girls' uncle. Almost feral, the girls are sent to live with their uncle Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel while continuing to be under the care of a psychiatrist. But the girls did not come back alone, as they are followed by a mysterious entity who took care of them in the woods - someone(thing) they simply call "Mama."

So maybe the main problem I had with Mama did not come from the movie itself but rather from me. Maybe I'm just a cold-hearted bitch but all the talk about how this movie was so emotionally heartbreaking and sad was completely lost on me. If it was supposed to be about the deep bond between mother and child, it was a failure at getting to me. And yes, I do have a mother. But she is not a scary ghost who lives in the walls so excuse me for not making any connection to my real life.

I totally got the parallel between the grieving, desperate mother (Mama) versus the reluctant mother (Annabel). But was I seriously supposed to sympathize with either of these characters? I felt a little bit for Annabel, whom we learn right away does not want to be a mother just yet - i.e. her relief over the negative pregnancy test - because I have no desire to be mother either. And if I were asked to suddenly take on not only two mostly grown children but also children with serious issues, I would not be so happy about it, like Annabel. I do think that it would have helped the story if she had warmed up to Lilly and Victoria a little bit sooner because she was terribly unlikable for a good chunk of the movie. She was kind of a bitch, really.

I never sympathized with Mama herself either because really, why should I? Not just because she was a big, freaky, body-contorting ghost that at least Victoria seemed more than a little terrified of, but also there was nothing in her story that made me care all that much about her. All I know was that she was a crazy woman who ran away from an asylum and then jumped off a cliff with her infant in her arms. Awesome mother right there, for sure. She was sad about losing her baby? She. Jumped. Off. A. Cliff. With her baby. She is not better than any other mother who loses her child to horrible circumstance - she was the cause of it. Sure, Mama served as Lilly and Victoria's protectors during those five long years in the cabin (and saved Victoria from being shot in the head) but this only made her more dangerous. She felt that the girls belonged to her, and therefore killed anyone who threatened her, and... well, she did that whole thing at the end which I (surprisingly) will not spoil. And you want me to get all emotional over this??? No. I'm sorry, but no. Please get rid of the floaty, murderous ghost.

Another problem I had with Mama was what I saw to be a real lack of exposition scenes. Most of the time it seemed like they were trying to get through some scenes or plot points as quick as possible so that they could get to the next scary scene. Luke falls down the stairs and is in a coma - two minutes, then boom, bring out Mama again to try to scare us. Annabel never visits Luke in the hospital again? Never sheds any tears or shows any worry at all that the man she loves is in a freaking coma? And while we're on the subject of things that were missing from the story, this might be a little nitpick, but where was the therapy and treatment for Lilly and Victoria after they went home? Lilly was still crawling around on all fours eating bugs. She obviously needed intense treatment and help from a professional but is sent to live with two people with no experience with children after only 87 days. Victoria is hypnotized and interviewed by Dr. Dreyfuss several times when his only concern is with Mama and not with helping these girls get back to normal life.  

Okay, now about the scary thing. Mama was not the least bit scary or creepy. One scene, one little scene only was good but the rest was simply cheap jump scares that never made me jump. Big CGI-Mama spent way too much time in front of the camera, showing us all the cool ghost-type things she could do. I hate to constantly play the old school card, but it is still true that what is not seen is often scarier than what is seen. Mama lost all her mystery too early on in the film so that every time she rushes the camera all fast or something, the scare was a flop. And giving us one scare after another doesn't work either. You need suspense-building scenes in between them, and Mama had no suspense to speak of. The one good scene I will mention is when Lilly is playing in her room and someone whom we're supposed to assume is Victoria starts playing blanket tug-of-war with her off camera. They show Annabel walking around the hall with a laundry basket, and then Victoria comes out of a room down the hall too - all while someone(thing) is pulling on Lilly's blanket. That was well played and a little creepy, even though they might have let it go on too long. Also, moths are not scary. Just sayin'.

Mama is not a movie that I hated or one that I thought was technically bad in any way - besides the CGI overuse - it is just another one that fell terribly short of my expectations. Perhaps other viewers in a different frame of mind than I am were able to enjoy and get invested in the story, but this girl who loves horror saw nothing that she loved in Mama.


  1. I've been tempted to watch this based purely on how hot Jessica Chastain looks as a sorta-goth-girl. This review makes me think even that might not make the movie worth my while.

    1. She doesn't even really do all that much in this movie so no, I don't think it would be worth the while! Then again, a lot of people really seemed to like it which makes it hard to judge how anybody will really feel about it!

  2. Hi i like your post i am a regular visitor of your site.
    i also have a blog- NORMAL OR PARANORMAL
    you ca lear an read about Ghost here.
    You can read real ghost story Here
    you van learn reality about spirit ...

  3. Congrats! So far, the best and most truthful Mama-review I've read. I probably 'enjoyed' it a bit more than you, but not much.
    The story has more holes than a Swiss cheese and isn't exactly believable, Mama looks hilarious, there's too much CGI and the end is sooo fucking bad, it hurts.

  4. And this is what bothers me. Mama on its own is a beautiful film that was BADLY mismarketed. I think Studios see Del Toro and jump to the "horror" angle, of its own volition Mama is a gorgeous film that relies on the old tropes but it's not an horror film rather I saw it as a dark fairytale. If you go in with a different mindset a la not horror, it stands up well. Just don't buy the horror angle in my opinion.

    1. Whether it was scary or not, or horror or not, was not Mama's biggest problem for me. I mentioned several problems in my review, but the one that immediately comes to mind is that the Mama character is not sympathetic, and for most of the film, neither is Annabel. This in turn hurts the story, which is the most important part of any film. Has nothing to do with the fact of whether it was marketed as horror or not - the story didn't work for me, so the movie didn't work for me.

  5. If it's not for you, it's not for you. Cest la vie. But I loved this film so it's really a case of agree to disagree :-)