Mama Leaves Little to the Imagination

*whispers* "Mama." Yes? "Mama." YES? "Mama." YES?! "... Mama."

Scared yet?
Scared yet?
The latest film "presented by Guillermo del Toro" (as marketed on the movie poster) while actually being directed by Andres Muschietti attempts to incorporate the macabre fantasy of Pan's Labyrinth with the age-old story of an Earth-bound spectre seeking to right the wrongs of the past. Mama, inspired by an eponymous short film from Spain, relies heavily on del Toro's namesake and although his influence is certainly evident in the ornately magical motifs of the movie, the plot itself does not resonate with the same brand of originality associated with its producer.

Mama tells the story of two sisters who, after being kidnapped by their distressed, homicidal father and consequently getting stranded in the woods following his mysterious death, are taken into the care of a violent female apparition they eventually come to address as "Mama." Five years following the disappearance of his brother and nieces, Lucas (no last name provided) is notified that the girls have been found in a remote cabin within a forested area. After eight months under observation for their animalistic behavior, the girls are brought into the custody of Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel. It is not long before eerie happenings plague their household and a morbid, maternal presence seeks to reclaim her "children."

This may not be Guillermo del Toro's first horror film, but it is clear to see parallels drawn from other scary movies and directors--from the elegantly macabre touches of Dead Silence, The Sixth Sense's poignant inner-torture from a child's perspective, and wispy shapes and romantic orchestrations with the likeness of Tim Burton's repertoire. With that being said, it goes to show that Mama is not the greatest product of innovation and uniqueness concept-wise. Credit is due for del Toro's cinematography, however, as several camera angles and visual aesthetics are utilized superbly to connote the atmospheric peculiarity of a ghostly house guest and the curious enigma surrounding the girls' uneasiness.

Now, really, who is Mama? Mama a.k.a Edith is an undead being who formerly escaped from a mental institution during the 1800's with her bundled infant, having become separated from her child after jumping off a cliff to end both their lives. The film's antagonist (or protagonist, depending on who you're rooting for) is certainly darkly disturbing in appearance and can cause some uneasiness when she is subtly visible through lurking shadows and speedy silhouettes, but the problem is that she appears too regularly in the last half of the film. The audience is no longer afraid of this mysterious figure that may or may not have cataract-stained pupils or jutting bones piercing decayed flesh because Mama is on camera continuously for as long five minutes at a time, allowing viewers to notice the abstruse excess of CGI and the tarnished fear of the unknown. 

On the topic of CGI, Mama's movement is characterized by primitive crawling and Exorcist-like flexibility, but sometimes, the sight of her makes for frequent laughable moments. An awkwardly notable example is a scene of Mama sneaking up on an unsuspecting victim with the top of her head intangibly surfing on top of the floor boards like a bad wig being reeled in with a fishing pole. 

A homage was paid to the original Spanish-language film from which Mama was based, with the exact composition and cinematography depicting Mama chasing the girls down a hallway. It would have been overkill to include the exact dialogue as well from the short film, so this scene was somewhat tolerable and an admirable way of del Toro paying his respect to those who inspired him in the first place.  

Certain speed bumps that make picky movie critics cringe are not in short supply--cliches and discontinuity being the most irritating. Of course the homicidal father who plans on killing his wife and two young daughters would have a license plate that says "NM1DAD" because that would make things ironically funny, RIGHT? It's cool that the beginning of the movie says, "Once upon a time," because all horror films are exotic fairytales, RIGHT? Sure, it's normal to have a black wiener dog turn brown over the course of five years because that's how nature works, RIGHT? And Mama's final appearance in the film is so original because we've never seen an undead women disintegrate into a swarm of a hundred moths as she peacefully moves on, RIGHT? *cough* Corpse Bride *cough* In short, Mama had all the makings of a box office smash, but not a memorable story to be regarded as historically significant in the spectrum of classic horror flicks.      

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SeparateWay February 18, 2013 at 09:07 AM
Sounds pretty generic. You make a good point bringing up Del Toro as producer, because it's another example of how name dropping is supposed to get people into seats. Producer does not equal writer or director. The same can be said for The Orphanage which he also "presented" which also reminded me of Mama. You might want to post a spoiler warning though because I'm pretty sure the identity of Mama is supposed to be a main point of the movie. How were the performances? Especially when you have a "It's fine" dad, a mom who used to be a rock star, and two girls who's motivation is "be creepy."


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