‘Mama’: in with a bang, out with a whimper
Guillermo Del Toro brings dark fantasy back, following Pan’s Labyrinth
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 3, 2013 19:02
Guillmero Del Toro yanks his viewers into the film when he reveals the back story of a man who loses his mind and shoots his business partner and wife. He takes his two young daughters Lily (Isabelle Nelisse) and Victoria (Megan Charpenter) and decides he is going to escape to Canada. Yet his plans go awry when his car whirls out of control and down a hill where it crashes, leaving the family stranded.
They walk through the forest eventually finding a cabin adorned with 1950’s furniture and décor, yet when the father attempts to murder his eldest daughter Victoria, the hairy and dark apparition Mama appears to save the girls. This is how the two girls meet Mama voiced by Javier Botet; this terrifying savage apparition begins to bond with the two girls and teaches them how to survive in the wilderness.
Five years later the two little girls are found and they are entirely feral. This leads us to the story of the uncle who spent all his money searching for the two girls and their father. Del Toro introduces us to a loving uncle who is devoted to making sure these two girls have a great life and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastin), who reluctantly gives up her old life in a Punk rock band to help him raise the two creepy girls.
The uncle hires two men to bring the girls back to civilization and with the help of Dr. Dryfuss (Daniel Kash) to reintroduce the two mentally unstable children back into society. This of course is not easy and the two girls are seen talking to an invisible “Mama” as they crawl around and snarl during their treatment. They eventually progress far enough in their therapy to leave the hospital, and the Uncle makes a deal with the Doctor to help raise the two girls in an enormous house given to him by the hospital.
Del Toro reveals the storyline by explaining the unrealistic gift of a house legal battles over the girls with their aunt, and Dr. Dryfuss needing to keep the girls in the state so he can study them.
Like any horror story there are long dark hallways where mysterious sounds are heard and unearthly screeching fills the house. The stains in the walls are where Mama enters and exits and she hides in the little girls’ closet. Del Toro uses shock scare tactics to keep his film flowing but the plot is relatively predictable as the Doctor begins to delve deeper into the mystery of who Mama is and what she wants. Well this isn’t a spoiler since they give away the entire mystery in the first twenty minutes. Mama is a disgruntled ghost who wants children of her own; she follows these two girls, protecting them, playing with them and loving them.
The screeching apparition is made up of wisps of smoke and too much hair that helps her resemble Samara from the ring, if Samara did meth and was obsessed with two little girls. Del Toro creates well-rounded characters, which include the ghost.
I liked the ghost so much that at one point in the film I was wondering if she would make a deal with the new caretakers and just be the messed up nanny. The two girls help make Mama terrifying with scenes such as when Annabel, their new guardian, goes to open their closet door at two in the morning where the audience just saw Mama enter, or when Annabel awakens to find a terrified Victoria standing at her bedroom door staring under her bed.
Mama is only terrifying because the two children and Annabel make her so; take away the rest of the cast and all you have is Cousin Its’ ugly sister. Mama plays off the most childlike fears, such as the fear to open your closet at night, look under the bed or in the particularly dark corner of your bedroom because you wonder if there is a monster waiting in the darkness. Those are Mama’s favorites spots to scare from, aside from crawling up behind you and screaming.
Yet Mama lost her sense of mystery when Del Toro handed over all her information in the first twenty minutes, taking away the terrifying unknown. Instead he makes Mama relatable and likeable, which is exactly what made the movie and what destroyed it. Mama is so likeable that I don’t want her to leave. I want her to get her evil ghostly head on straight and team up with the living to raise Victoria and Lily, who, just like Mama went from terrifying to adorable. Yet Del Toro needs you to fear Mama; however, once you hear her speak and realize that she sounds like Scooby Doo it’s difficult to take her seriously as a villain.
This film is fine if you like a good scare, but leave ten minutes before the film ends and you will leave terrified to look under your bed.
The last ten minutes felt like Del Toro had lost interest in Mama and decided to throw the ending together as fast as he could, leaving the audience disappointed, bored, and confused.