It wasn’t even a year ago when I attended my first film of 2012 and was extremely optimistic about the rest if the year- that movie was THE GREY. January typically doesn’t offer the kind of films that are remembered all the way till the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, but I had my fingers crossed that my first choice of 2013 would bring luck for two straight years of bright optimism- in retrospect, maybe a debut feature wasn’t quite the right direction to lean. MAMA may carry the “Presented by Guillermo del Toro” tag, but I’m starting to wonder if that alone is something to get all that excited about.
The film is a dark modern day fairy tale that begins with a father that has snapped, killed his coworkers, ex-wife and has kidnapped his children. A snowy road causes an accident that leaves the father and his two children seeking shelter in a shack in the middle of the woods where he attempts to murder his children but foiled in his efforts by a mysterious entity. Three years later the children’s uncle, Luke, has spared no expense to find them and when he does they are feral from living in the wild eating nothing but cherries and being raised by someone they refer to as Mama. After Luke takes them in it appears that Mama has followed them and is none too pleased about someone trying to take them away from her.
The most disappointing thing for me about MAMA is the amount of missed opportunities- especially given how fantastic a lot of this movie is. The film opens spectacularly with an incredibly filmed sequence of scenes that build the mythology and tension greatly. The cinematography was stunning to me throughout the film, but never more so than everything leading up to the title credits. Unfortunately the other visual elements such as the CGI are incredibly weak and created a barrier between me and my overall enjoyment of the film.
Having an actress like Jessica Chastain would be a huge boost for just about any film right now, but for most of the movie she has nothing to do but walk around and stare suspiciously at doors. The relationship she builds with the kids is actually kind of sweet given how against having kids she happens to be, but I still had to take a few leaps to get everything out of that emotional arc. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is pretty well useless in this film- he plays both the father at the beginning and the children’s Uncle, but the most demanding part of his role comes in the opening scenes as the father. Coster-Waldau disappears for a vast majority of the middle act and then has very little effect during the finale. Speaking of the finale- it’s indicative of a lot of my problems with the CGI and stuff things that don’t make a whole lot of sense. There’s a chase through the house that has a really cool haunted house vibe and again the cinematography looks great but the makeup on Mama as well as the CGI are horrid.
Sadly MAMA does not disprove the fact that mostly lackluster films litter the month of January, but with everything I loved about it the film is also not a complete waste of time. The movie is filmed incredibly well- it’s just that a lot of the stuff happening on screen severely lacks the same quality. Jessica Chastain as a punk rock chick isn’t nearly as great as she’s been in the past, but she has moments towards the end that hint at something great. MAMA is not without some effective jump scares and creepy imagery, but Muschietti’s debut feature shows the signs of a director with some room to grow and that the very least is a name to watch out for.
Written By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter