Friday, January 18, 2013
MAMA Said Knock You Out
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.