Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nelisse, Daniel Kash
Written by: Neil Cross (and story) Andy Muschietti and Barbara Muschietti
Running Time: 99 mins
Release date: 22nd February 2013
There is nothing more creepy in a horror than a child or two. Look back in history and the more terrifying tales of terror have a young central character/s: The Exorcist, The Shining, Village Of The Damned. Now we have two little girls who are going to try and scare the heebee-geebees out of you in the Guillermo del Toro executive produced chiller that has loads of atmosphere, creepy performances but doesn’t set the horror world on fire.
A man drives his two young children off the road one snowy night and finds an abandoned shack in the middle of nowhere. There he plans to kill his little girls but mysteriously is murdered by a shadowy form. Five years later, his brother, Lucas, has never given up hope in finding his family. Living with his rock bassist girlfriend, Annabel, he is slowly running out of money when the two girls are discovered.
Totally feral, Victoria and Lilly, move in with Lucas and Annabel but it soon becomes apparent that someone or some thing has moved in with them.
Mama is the brain child of Spanish director/writer Andre Muschietti (calling himself Andy) and based on his own 2008 three minute short of the same name. Which is where the alarm bells started ringing. How can a three minute tale be turned into a feature without either padding or repetitiveness? The answer is, it can’t.
Borrowing quite heavily from other horrors, the film starts off quite atmospheric and that is the one consistency but this relies too much on the “behind you” “don’t open the door” cliches and the now almost un-inventive “quiet quiet quiet LOUD” school of film making to make the audience react. It’s a shame because the actual idea is different and unique and Muschietti has two excellent young actresses who are certainly unsettling.
Megan Charpentier plays the older girl, Victoria and she’s quietly unsettling but has a head on her shoulders while Isabelle Nelisse as her younger sister, almost mute and with some very strange habits, is incredibly creepy. With her odd sleeping habits and even odder eating habits, it’s a very unnerving performance.
Add to the mix, Jessica Chastain, almost unrecognisable in a black bob wig, as Annabel, the young woman who doesn’t want children but gives up her rock n roll lifestyle in order to look after the girls. It’s a very different performance from that of Zero Dark Thirty but it’s still a good one, as she tries to protect the young ladies from whatever is in her home. Proof again that Ms Chastain is an actress to keep an eye on.
Muschietti knows how to set up atmosphere and makes the setting seem incredibly claustrophobic but his main trouble is not allow the horror to come naturally, like he has no faith in his own material. We have a strange set-up, with equally strange children and a creature that, when we don’t see it, makes the imagination run riot. Like every film maker that attacks horror, he doesn’t allow us time to play mind games until he shows the face and the inner horror is removed, replaced by disappointment.
The ending, also, spoils the film. A bizarre finale that doesn’t really make sense and leaves you utterly unsatisfied, like you have invested 90 minutes of your life to be given a payoff like this. Admittedly, it isn’t as bad as The Devil Within but it’s not far off it.
So what we have are some nice ideas wrapped in a film that cannot resist in using cliches and ideas from others to try and make us jump, leading to a very ropey ending. Not terrible but no masterpiece either. The sad part is, you can see that it could have been a masterpiece.