Friday, January 18, 2013

MAMA Said Knock You Out

The films of Guillermo Del Toro trade in a very specific type of fairytale dread. Whether it’s the insectile horror of Cronos and Mimic, the wartime fantasia of The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, or the heroic monsters of Hellboy and its sequel, The Golden Army, Del Toro takes a weirdly childlike approach to things that go bump in the night. And even though he only produced Mama—it was directed by Andres Muschietti, who co-wrote it with his sister Barbara—the film has Del Toro’s stamp all over it, even beginning with a title card that reads “Once Upon A Time”.
In a prologue, an investment banker (Game Of Thrones’ Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) murders his colleagues and his wife, then flees with his young daughters Lilly and Victoria down a snowy mountain highway. The car crashes, and, wandering through the forest, the family finds a creepy, deserted shack. A murder-suicide seems imminent, but is prevented by the arrival of an out-of-focus something that dispatches dad and befriends the girls. Fast forward five years later, where we learn the banker’s twin brother Lucas has never given up the search for his nieces. A pair of hunters find the girls living like animals in the wilderness. The girls claim that they survived with the help of a supernatural guardian they call “Mama”, and a psychiatrist allows their uncle to take them home. Lucas’ wife Annabel (Jessica Chastain, nearly unrecognizable with close-cropped hair, tattoos, and heavy eye makeup), has no interest in raising a pair of feral girls…particularly once it becomes apparent that their not-quite-imaginary friend has followed them home.
Mama was adapted from a short film by the Muschiettis, and the strain in adapting a two-and-a-half minute short to feature length is visible. It’s a slow-moving film, with plenty of lingering shots of half-open doors and lonely hallways. Sometimes, this approach works; Mama is one of those rare films that can find the quiet eeriness in a big house in the middle of the afternoon. There’s a scene early on where the girls’ bedroom is visible in the foreground, and Annabel can be seen doing laundry at the end of the hall. It looks as though the girls are playing with each other—Lilly is seen tugging at one end of a blanket—but then, Victoria appears at the end of the hall near the laundry room. Who is tugging on the other end of that blanket? we wonder, as Annabel unknowingly goes about her business. But any momentum gained by these early scenes is slowed down by a dull subplot where the psychiatrist (Daniel Kash, a dead ringer for Tony Shalhoub) tries to piece together the backstory behind the mysterious ghostly figure. When “Mama" does finally make her startling full appearance, it’s a hackles-raising tour de force—the spectral, spider-limbed hag has a head full of hair that always appears to be floating as though in water, and can race across a room like a sped-up video image (the unbroken shot that precedes her entrance is impressive; the entire scene is pretty much a remake of the original short film). But the movie quickly falls apart in the third act, as it becomes worn down by a series of unlikely coincidences and sloppy last-second voiceovers designed to smooth over the bumpy plot. The PG-13 rated film opts for chills over gore, which is fine, but after awhile the logy pacing will make you sleepy. Strong performances from Chastain, Coster-Waldau, and especially Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse (as Victoria and Lilly, respectively), combined with a handful of effective scares keep Mama from becoming a complete snooze, but that kind of faint praise is probably not the fairytale outcome Del Toro and the Muschiettis were hoping for.

1 comment:

ADmin said...
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