Thursday, August 8, 2013

Film Review: Mama (2013)

Mama (Review)
Spain/Canada/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

During the 2008 financial crisis, Jeffrey kills his partners and wife, driving his daughters, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily (Isabelle Nélisse), to a cabin shortly afterwards to finish it. That is, until a mysterious shadow figures protects them. Five years later, a search party, hired on behalf of Jeffrey's brother Lucas, find the young girls in a feral state in the cabin...

Mama continues to tell the story of the Victoria and Lily as they are adopted by their uncle and his girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain) - a rocker with an attitude. Eventually, the mysterious ghostly presence finds makes its presence known as it secretly interacts with the siblings and creeps through the home with an eerie presence. A barrage of jump-scares are delivered, with an occasional creepy scene here and there. Mama's identity and some backstory follows; as does the obligatory "the only way we'll solve this problem is by finding the source" hunt. It comes to an end, which I have mixed feeling for; on one hand, it tries to be unique and breakaway from the typical ending; on the other hand, it completely changes the genre into some sort of action and still manages to feel cliché.

As far as story goes, Mama starts off very promising. It introduces a unique concept and manages to stay creepy for the first half. Eventually, Mama loses its identity -- it loses its ambition -- and becomes a cliché horror film; it loses direction and aims for the same thing we've seen dozens of times. It doesn't help listening to Annabel complain every other scene; not only is the whining annoying, but it sets up the most predictable character arc ever. You probably can guess it before watching, so I won't be spoiling it, this is how it goes:
Beginning: "I'm not your mother, call me Annabel."
Middle: "This isn't my job."
End: "Now I want to be your mother."

Mama consists of mostly jump-scares, some suspense, and eerie visuals. There are a few creative and spooky scenes that really send the chills down your spine, but it is dominated by jump-scares. Usually, the jump-scares are predictable, basically the (loud music + sudden appearance) combination; it's unfortunate that the film rarely experiments with its unique concept, especially when it comes to the terror. Mama's design is creepy, her movements are chilling and the sounds she omits are disturbing - I actually really like her audio. However, Mama is heavily reliant on computer effects, they're great and all but they make it less effective. Ultimately, the horror is very hollow, but it at least delivers the basics and entertains.

I thoroughly enjoy Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse performances; both deliver great emotion and expression, and manage to steal the show. Jessica Chastain captures her character well; I don't fault her for playing an annoying character since she captures it well. The visual effects are solid, but often too overwhelming; particularly the ending where the special effects are most evident. The music is matches the film, and can range from spooky to thrilling. The writing starts off ambitious and creative, but becomes sloppy and cliché towards the end.

Overall, Mama is a good horror film. It starts off original and promising, but eventually becomes the film you've seen a dozen times over; it's not the worse thing that could've happened, but it is disappointing. The scares are hollow and only have surface value, yet it manages to entertain and should easily kill a night. I recommend a rental, a purchase for hardcore horror fanatics.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

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