<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Andres Muschietti. Starring Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier
Strange that I expect and look forward to a film by actor/filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro. Maybe it’s his name: sounds foreboding and grand. But then he did make Pan’s Labyrinth, which was quite deliciously dark and magnificent. MAMA is pretty blah-blah though.
Horror movies seem to have lapsed into a lazy formula, one after another copying from each other all the things they think make for a great horror film. It’s almost like a checklist:
- Scary little children or little girl.
- Haunted house.
- Strange insects or moths.
- A water element like a bathtub or lake.
- Contorted CGI ghost, preferably a woman with long flowing hair making a strange (overused now) click-click noise.
- Same old ‘what’s in the closet’, ‘fast moving shadows’ scare tactics.
I can’t remember the last horror film I saw that didn’t have at least two of the above items. So predictable and cliché and that’s exactly what MAMA is. Complete with everything on the above list and devoid anything new. It starts off promisingly with a businessman (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) accused of killing his partners and wife making off with his two daughters on a snowy trail, losing control of his senses and the car, crashing, walking in the woods and stumbling on an abandoned cabin where he is about to off his little girls and himself when… a CGI ghost takes him and the girls… just stay in the cabin for… 5 years! What horrible search and rescue services: they couldn’t find the car for all that time; they didn’t have a helicopter!!
So all that time later, the ‘wild’ girls having been adopted by the maternal ghost who can feed them only… cherries are discovered by a private search party hired by the businessman’s brother, also played by Nikolaj Coster-Walda. Guess they wanted to save some cash on actors considering award-winning Jessica Chastain must’ve used up most of the budget. The almost unrecognisable Jessica plays Uncle Lucas’s Goth band-member girlfriend who must help him take care of his new wards. Her struggle with that and the realisation that the girls already seem to have a mysterious stepparent who plays with them when no one’s looking is most of what MAMA’s plot is about.
There’s of course some less than interesting back story about MAMA and her ‘lost’ child, which to be honest makes absolutely no sense and fails to wrap up the motivations or the finale of this film. The usual clues and discoveries try and keep you interested but then there’s a scene where a camera flash is used to illuminate a room and you’re like: “Haven’t I seen the exact same device used in a half a dozen other films including Saw?” Yes you have but Saw was a much more riveting film. MAMA looks nice and tries hard but at the end of the eerie night it just doesn’t give us anything new, simply feeding us with formula scares (ghost under the bed anyone!) and a lousy CGI monster that won’t make you want to shout out for your mommy.