As a producer, Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth
, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
) has a knack for coming up with projects that are not only original, but extremely frightening. Mama
is no exception, providing a uniquely terrifying experience.
The opening of Mama
sees a man named Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from "Game of Thrones") murder his wife, kidnap his two daughters and run away to a secluded cabin. He is about to kill both of the girls and himself, but is stopped by...something. Five years later, Victoria (Jennifer's Body
's Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse from Whitewash
) are discovered in the cabin, completely neglected but claiming to have been taken care of by "Mama." A psychologist named Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash from Aliens
) places the girls with their uncle, Lucas (also played by Coster-Waldau), and his girlfriend, Annabel (Zero Dark Thirty
's Jessica Chastain). The girls move in with Lucas and Annabel, but Mama has come, too. And she won't let go of them as easily as Lucas and Annabel would like.
is based on the horrifying short film "Mamà
" by Andrés Muschietti. Guillermo del Toro had Muschietti (now calling himself Andy), along with his sister Barbara Muschietti and television writer Neil Cross ("The Fixer"), expand the short into a full length screenplay by creating a believable backstory and fleshing out the unanswered questions in the short. Mama
adapts well into a feature length production; whereas the short is pure adrenaline terror, the feature gives the audience time to breath and soak it all in, letting them relate to and care about the characters - and then it scares them to death.
The tension in Mama
is unfathomable. Mama shows herself to the viewer little by little in a perfect reveal, and the suspense is maddening. For example, in one scene, Annabel notices that the closet is ajar. She approaches it, and Victoria tells her not to open it. She pauses, letting the viewer think that she's going to look inside...then closes it. The Mama doesn't even have to show her face to make the viewer uncomfortable, and Mama
is full of moments like this.
Of course, Mama doesn't always stay hidden. She is one of the most frightening characters in recent horror memory. She's a shape-shifting, slippery menace that terrorizes anyone and everyone who threatens Victoria and Lilly. And Mama's got one heck of a jealous streak, one that Annabel learns about first hand when Victoria takes a liking to her. The Mama in Mama
is not one to be messed with.
The only thing that keeps Mama
from getting a fourth clock is the ending. The screenplay succumbs to a common horror movie trend; it tries to humanize its antagonist. Of course, like any horror villain, Mama has an origin story. Mama's story, however, weakens her character. The third act tries to elicit sympathy for her, but all it does is soften the climax. What should be a balls-to-the-wall battle with Mama ends up...not. The film is still very watchable and will scare even the hardest of the hard, but the ending of Mama
falls short of expectations.