With Guillermo del Toro the executive producer, as he did during Splice, a modern horror marvel, I could only think that the funny would be dark; not dumb. You’ll find yourself laughing at Mama—the character and the film—while watching director Andres Muschietti’s debut into full-length cinema.
Not all is lost, however, for this film’s savior is Jessica Chastain, making sure the duration isn’t all for naught.
Basically, two children are found living in a desolate house in the woods all by themselves. Or so it seems. How they got into their situation is irrelevant; how they survived is. And what helped them stay alive turns out to be the villain of this story.
Following the girls’ return to civilization, Victoria and Lilly (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse) are set to live with their aunt and uncle, Annabel and Lucas (Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), within a test study house, so child-shrink Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) can also keep his watchful eye on the children.
But the problem is that the transient being—known to the girls as Mama—that kept them alive in the forest has followed them into their new endeavor of existence. Plus, she tends to get a little jealous.
What we see from this point forward doesn’t always work. The actions of Mama defy logic the farther down the rabbit hole we go, and we’re left with more questions than answers, which admittedly works for about the first hour, yet when the filmmakers attempt to wrap it all up, there’s little clarity.
One thing that’s done extremely well, however, is the character of Annabel (Chastain). She’s the only character with any real development, and therefore she’s the only one with any real depth.
Annabel is a goth-chick gen-xer that plays bass in a band, and she celebrates when she isn’t pregnant. Her transformation from a selfish adult child into a maternal figure for the girls ties the film together long enough for us to care about the ending.
Writers Andres, Barbara Mushietti and Neil Cross fail to capitalize on much else, yet the journey of “Mama” does keep one guessing and therefore interested until the very end, no matter how unsatisfying said ending may be.
After an impressive opening, Mama flounders; in fact, the conclusion to which it latches makes the promise of such an exposition seem null and void. Ditto for a theme, or anything else of a redeemable quality. But, as a mindless and thrilling horror yarn, Mama soars—just don’t dig too deep, or you’ll be disappointed to the nth degree.
Mama is now playing in Philly-area theaters.