Mainstream Horror Missing the Mark: A Review of Mama (2013)

**INCLUDES SOME SPOILERS**

Mama (2013) is one of the mainstream offerings from the horror genre this year. Commercially it has done very well at the box office, however it does not give the genre any confidence of improvement and is an example of how decent and well executed horror films are hard to come by these days. Actual brilliant horror is normally found amidst the line-ups in the festival circuit.

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Mama was initially a Spanish, 3 minute short  made in 2008 by the same director Andrés Muschietti. It impressed acclaimed dark, fantasy horror director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth (2004) who went onto produce this feature, but not even his name could save this film from the boring mess it turned out to be. Mama’s premise does hold intrigue however the film remains dull in tone and drawn out from beginning till the end. Mama centers on a young couple Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Annabel (Jessica Chastain) who are faced with the prospect of caring for their feral nieces, who have been brought up in the wild for the past five years. Their father, Lucas’s brother murdered their birth mother and two of his business partners during the 2008 financial crisis. He takes his two daughters Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse) to an abandoned cabin in the woods (generic horror convention, check!) and attempts suicide. Not to the surprise of the audience he is subsequently killed by a mysterious figure we come to know cryptically as “Mama”.

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The opening was irritating, following the sequence described above, we are then subjected to long, drawn out opening credits which proved distracting prior to meeting the film’s adult protagonists. So much could have been developed from this kind of narrative, it would have been far more interesting to see the young girls adapt to Western society, regain a sense of normalcy and see the characters develop a strong bond as a family unit. But that’s the problem with Mama it doesn’t really work as a Horror film. From a dramatic custody battle at the beginning as well as intriguing therapy sessions it didn’t seem to have room for the supernatural aspect it eventually delivered. The dullness was heightened by the bleakness of the film, with grey filters present throughout as well as the slow pace and repetitive moments.

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Certain scenes did ramp up the tension and could have been genuinely scary, but as I said above, these sequences were repeated too often and failed to add anything new to the plot. There was too much focus on a CGI Mama , which was a poorly animated and became more laughable and silly rather than terrifying. The noise was clearly borrowed from Ju On: The Grudge (2002),  and Mama’s appearance was similar to how possessed females are constructed in exorcism style films. Not seeing Mama at all would have been far scarier, the use of shadows and POV shots would have created an intense atmosphere while keeping up the intrigue rather than being so blatant and shoving this silly looking excuse for a ghost in our faces, partnered with hammy performances from the cast! There is only so much crying and screaming I can take.

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I guess this film was trying too hard but failed to deliver and didn’t seem to know what it wanted to say. The character relationships felt empty and under-developed, it was difficult to gain a sense of empathy with them or feel their struggle. Overall, it was very predictable from the convoluted back story of Mama to the over-the-top, prolonged ending, it was also pretty evident which one-dimensional characters would be killed off. Tedious to watch with an unsatisfying outcome. Genre fans know that better horrors than this can be made, Sinister (2012) being a key example of mainstream horror done well. I hate to be so cynical, but this is not a film I will be re-visiting!

Hayley Alice Roberts.

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