If there is one thing I can say about the ghost story Mama, it’s that the film’s heart was in the right place. I could see why, executive producer, Guillermo del Toro would want to put his support behind the film, since it was the kind of story that would attract him. However, that couldn’t stop me with being overall disappointed with the film. In some ways, this disappointment comes from the fact that I am getting fed up with mainstream horror films, which tend to play it safe in order to get a PG-13 rating and box office success. In the film, a couple of girls, who have been missing for five years, have finally been found living in a cabin in the woods. Despite being quite feral, after all their years in the wilderness, they are taken in by their uncle Lucas (Game of Throne’s Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (a somewhat punked out Jessica Chastain). However it turns out the girls were taken care by someone, or something, in the woods and it wants them back.
Where should I start? Perhaps I could say that I had somewhat heightened expectations about the film after hearing reports about how scary it was. Perhaps it’s because I’m quite familiar with all the tricks of the horror genre, but I found the film to be more boring than scary. The film relies heavily on cheap jump scares and, even then, I was only shocked once. The evil ghost “Mama” was completely computer generated and just looked fake and cheesy. There were absolutely no surprises in the plot and I was repeatedly checking my watch to see how much time was left (never a good sign). In some ways, Mama reminded me of the J-horror remake trend from a decade ago, in how the film featured a female ghost, which moved around with contorted body positions. However, unlike films like The RIng and The Grudge, in which actual human beings played the ghosts and were actually scary, the CGI ghost of Mama comes off as a lame imitation. There is simply no way you can truly be scared of something that is added to the film in post-production. The best types of horror films have very little CGI and very real scares. As for the acting, I have nothing against Jessica Chastain and her rising star presence, but she was completely unconvincing as the punk rocker she was supposed to be playing. It takes more that just a short black wig and a couple spider-web tattoos to be believable as somebody of that lifestyle. The film actually has quite a small cast, with there being only about six characters central to the story. Even though he has second billing, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is put on the sidelines for much of the film, leaving most of the screen time to Chastain and the girls. The film tries to add a secondary antagonist in the film of Lucas’ stern sister-in-law, who wants custody of the girls, but the subplot just falls flat and it’s not hard to guess what becomes of the character. There might have been a time when I would have been more forgiving of Mama and gave it one of my middle of the road ratings. However, because I went out of my way to see the film (at a late night screening), because I heard good things about it, I’m going to knock off some points. I’m also sick of mainstream horror films like this, which may be effective at scaring teenage girls, but is ultimately a disservice to the whole genre.4 | DISAPPOINTED