Two young sisters are abandoned in a shack deep in the woods with no way to fend for themselves. After five years later they are found, alive and well, explaining that their survival was down to a guardian they simply refer to as ‘Mama.’ The girls move in with their uncle and his partner in an attempt rehabilitate their development and restore some normality to their lives, However, it seems Mama isn’t quite ready to give up them up.
Mama is brought to us by Guillermo del Toro, the director of modern horror classics such as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, but not as a director, or even producer, no Del Toro is the executive producer of Mama. The title of executive producer has a somewhat ambiguous definition, it could mean having a direct input into the overall production of the movie, but it could just as well mean turning up on the last day to help pick out a nice cover art. Now… I don’t know to what extent Del Toro was involved, the sceptic in me suspects he may have been tagged onto this movie as a crafty marketing ploy. Nevertheless, with his name all over it I expected fantastic visual experience. The first half meets these expectations, playing with the viewers imagination and fears of what might be lurking in the dark or moving in shadows, using a strange palette of black and browns, accompanied by unsettling sound effects and clever lighting. However, in the third act the visuals take a sudden dive and start looking very glossy and fake. I can’t help but feel that this film would have benefited from more practical effects towards the end, where a few potentially scary scenes become more comical due to shoddy and careless CGI.
There has been some good attention to character development. First time director Andrés Muschietti clearly wants us to care for the characters in the story, and does a successful job of it too. This is helped by Jessica Chastain’s great performance as the female lead.
The story is a bit flaky and riddled with minor plot holes, although this can be largely overlooked as the first half of this film is wonderfully scary. The second half isn’t nearly as good, with the story escalating far too quickly and losing much of the built tension, and of course, the aforementioned plunge in quality of the effects. Still, the core idea of ‘there’s something in the house’ is done brilliantly. They have stuck to basic scare tactics, which ran the risk of being a very cliché, but they pull it off nicely, producing some genuinely creepy moments.