Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Still of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jessica Chastain, Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse in Mama.

Film review: 'Mama' scares, but fizzles by end

By Dusty Henry

“Mama” is a heartfelt film about the joys and blessings that come from raising feral children. Despite the difficulties, one family overcomes the odds and learns what it means to give the greatest gift parents can -– love.

Well actually, no. That’s not what happens.

Hyping up a movie as being the new Guillermo Del Toro film puts a lot of expectations to live up to. Whether it’s the artistry of “Pan’s Labyrinth,” the campy fun of the Hellboy series, or even the fan-boy dream of the “Pacific Rim” trailer, audiences know they’re in for something special.

However, “Mama” is not directed or written by Del Toro, he only produced it. Which means this movie is a completely different beast.

Ghosts and monsters seeking revenge is not a new plot device. There are countless movies of a villainous being destroying a family in their own home. “Mama” carries on that tradition.

After spending five years looking for them, Lucas, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones, Kingdom of Heaven), locates his two nieces who were thought lost in a car crash. The two girls, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse), have been living in a cabin in the woods, raised by a ghostly entity they refer to as mama. The girls are rabid and vicious.

Annabel, played by Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Tree of Life), is Lucas’ punk rock girlfriend who finds herself helping raise the two girls as they try to adjust back into society. Though Annabel does not have a nurturing personality and seems to have no maternal instincts, when Mama starts appearing in the house, she takes the brunt of the creature’s jealousy.

Horror movies as of late have gotten into the trend of creating suspense by not showing the monster right away. In that respect, “Mama” is a bit old school. Within the first 10 minutes we see Mama in almost her full form. This allows the movie to use Mama’s grotesque experience to be haunting without hiding her.

Moths signifying her proximity, goo dripping from the wall, her hair scuttling across the floor, and her stretching out her arms to Lilly and Victoria are all worth the inducing jump scares. But by the last twenty minutes of the movie, we’re so numb to seeing Mama that these things become second nature.

The movie starts as a compelling thriller, but slowly starts to lose some consistency and changes tone. After Luke and Annabel see Mama multiple times and never acknowledge it to each other, things become a bit hard to believe (mind you, the movie is about a ghost-monster-woman exacting revenge).

In the climactic final encounter with Mama, suddenly everything about the movie becomes a Tim Burton dark, fantasy adventure. The set design, color scheme, the score, and plot twists all scream Burton. There’s nothing wrong with Burton’s style, but here it’s thrown haphazardly into a totally different kind of movie, and the result is off-putting.

As far as horror movies go, “Mama” is probably better than other box office competitors like “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D,” but is far from the psychological thriller it paints itself as in the advertisements.

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