Friday, January 18, 2013
As the preview screening of Guillermo del Toro's horror film Mama, came closer and closer, the more I was tempted to cancel my reservation out of fear. As previously mentioned, I'm too susceptible to supernatural movies. I think it's because I believe that ANYTHING no matter how far fetched or out of this world, is possible. And this open-mindedness, combined with living alone, can really set my imagination working over-time.
But to my relief and disappointment. MAMA isn't very scary. It's creepy, and at times disturbing, but it certainly doesn't have that melancholy, haunting, can't shake it feeling of The Orphanage, nor is it darkly sinister. The movie is based on a short story and the thing about all short stories, what makes them work, whether they be ghostly in nature or not, is you go into them without much background, and you leave a short story with a lot of unanswered questions. When a writer, in this case, Neil Cross, Andrés Muschietti (writer/director) and Barbara Muschietti, decides to expand on a short story, it often becomes watered down to a point where it's no longer effective. I believe that's what happened with this film.
The movie begins with a radio news alert that a wealthy executive is wanted for the shooting of his business partners and estranged wife. We see a disheveled, good looking man in his late 30's come to an affluent home and hastily gather up his two daughters ages 5 and 10 months.
The little girl playing young Victoria, the eldest daughter (Morgan McGarry), is the most angelic, sober little actress. Look at that face!
The father quickly puts the girls in the backseat and sets out for no where in particular, just trying to get away, but it's snowing and he's driving very fast and erratically and in a short time slides off an embankment and crashes the car. He and the children abandon the car and walk through the woods and happen upon a cabin. I won't spoil what happens next, but cut to 5 years later and the father's brother, Lucas, played by the same actor (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has used up all of his brother's money looking for him and his nieces. 5 years! This is crazy because it was snowing when the brother's car went off the road. The skid marks would be easy for anyone to find; but especially this man wanted for kidnapping and murder, the police wouldn't have been far behind. Plus, a 5 year-old and a man carrying a baby, didn't walk that far into the woods. The only way this plot would have worked is if the ghost cloaked the cabin or it's occupants, so that searchers couldn't see it or them.
What I like about the plot is Jessica Chastain's character, Annabel, she's the live-in girlfriend of Lucas. She accepts his obsession over finding his nieces, but isn't really invested in it. She's a rock musician with an edge and short on sentimentality. She's not looking to be mother of the year, or interested in the experiment of healing two wild things; she agrees to raising them basically cause she's not yet done with being with their uncle. This outlook provides good scenes involving the growth of her relationship with the girls.
What I don't like is the casting of Chastain. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of her looks and acting talent, but she's already over-exposed. I would have preferred to see an actress that really has that harder edge, and one that wouldn't have needed to wear such a bad wig. Someone like Ellen Page or a Rose McGowan type, maybe even Megan Fox.
The main two missing ingredient as to why this film Mama isn't as frightening as the trailers portends - we see Mama too much. She/it starts to look slightly cartoonish. And the children are not frightening, not after leaving the cabin. "Outdoorsy" as Annabel describes them, but they are not very freaky. Nothing freaks me out like freaky kids - how about that girl from The Bad Seed?
Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) are torn between loyalty to Mama and living their new existence, but Mama has not possessed them. And I'm not sure why Victoria's glasses are so significant. Her father makes a point of grabbing the girl's eyewear before leaving the house; her glasses break in the crash; the first thing Lucas gives Victoria when the girls are found are eye glasses, Victoria takes them off when Mama is around; Mama at one point removes the offending spectacles... I suppose they just represent Victoria having one foot in the supernatural world and one in reality; but it feels like the glasses or lack of them, should somehow play a part in the climax.
Anyway, I really don't want to run the movie down. The storytelling through the children's artwork is effective. The pop of color on black and white for the flashback scenes are creative. The film on the whole is very watchable and keeps you tense and interested. In fact, while I was watching the movie and immediately after, I felt like it was good; but upon closer inspection, the flaws come into view. I apologize if I've ruined anyone's anticipation of seeing Mama. Hope you'll still see it, and then let me know what you think!
Philly Film Blog