Going to scary movies can be a lot of fun. I think the main reason why horror films are so popular with audiences is the visceral thrill one derives from being spooked, startled and frightened. It's quite similar to going on a ride at an amusement park because you are experiencing that fun rush of excitement from all of the ups and downs of the ride for a short burst of time only. Thankfully, the new film Mama delivers these types of chills and spills with regularity and will surely keep you squirming in your seat with frightful delight.
Presented by Guillermo del Toro, who executive produced the film, Mama is the directorial debut of Spanish filmmaker Andres Muschietti, who based it on his own 2008 short film of the same name. He definitely announces himself as someone to keep an eye on with this atmospheric and totally creepy film that had me jumping in my seat a time or two.
The film opens with two young sisters, Victoria and Lilly, being taken by their depressed and distraught father for a ride on an icy mountain road after having gone on a shooting rampage at work, killing his wife and a co-worker. They crash the car but end up finding a rundown cabin in the woods where he takes the girls with the plans to shoot them and himself. Just as he is about to shoot Victoria, a terrifying entity swoops into the room and snatches him away for good.
Five years later, the man's twin brother Lucas (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau), who has never given up searching for his missing brother and nieces, is contacted that the girls have been found in the old abandoned cabin in the woods. They are still alive but are so cut off from human contact that they have become like feral animals. He, along with his punk rock girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) decide to get the girls the help they need and take them in to raise them as best they can. Annabel isn't really the motherly type though and she agrees to this reluctantly, especially when she sees the deplorable state the girls are in. The problem is though that the girls aren't the only thing that has come to live with Lucas and Annabel now as the discombobulated spirit known to the girls as Mama has come to claim them for her own.
I won't reveal anything further about the plot so as not to ruin any of the surprises and twists that occur throughout the film. Suffice it to say though that what ensues over the course of the next 90 minutes is thoroughly creepy and scary stuff. I found the majority of Mama to be a compelling and suspense laden film filled with plenty of palpable tension and solid performances. Unfortunately I wasn't too thrilled with the ending of the film and where sometimes that can ruin my enjoyment of the film as a whole, in this case I'm still giving it a recommendation based on the excellent atmosphere created throughout most of the picture. So what if the director didn't exactly stick the landing, the rest of the technique and ability shone through quite brightly.
I'd like to single out the excellent performance of Jessica Chastain as well since she has to do a lot of the heavy lifting in this film. With her short cropped black hair and tattoos, she is completely different from her Oscar nominated role in Zero Dark Thirty and showcases her ability to totally transform herself. She is very good in this film.
Mama may not be the most original horror film I've seen, since it definitely borrows from other scary movies such as The Exorcist, Ringu and certain aspects of films by Tim Burton and Sam Raimi, but it is an effectively spooky ghost tale nonetheless, and one that horror aficionados are surely going to have some fun with.
If your idea of a good time at the movies is being sufficiently creeped out and jumping in your seat a few times then you would be wise to check out Mama.
I give Mama a 7.5 out of 10.
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