Review: 'Mama' brings ghost story with few new scares Special

Posted Feb 14, 2013 by Oliver VanDervoort
It seems to be a bit of a cliche these days to have a kid, or kids being the ones that brings the scares. Sinister did it best what with the kid arching out of the moving box and making crazy noises.
Yes  this is Jessica Chastain in  Mama.
Yes, this is Jessica Chastain in "Mama."
Box Office Mojo
What makes 'Mama' a movie worth seeing is that kids only bring a part of the scares and thrills. The problem is that the movie in general only brings a portion of the scares and thrills it could have brought.
By watching the trailer, you probably know the basic plot outline. Two young girls are orphaned in the woods. After a long period of time, they are eventually found, but have turned quite feral in the meantime. It turns out that one of the girls was young enough when they were orphaned that she hadn't really developed language or social skills and this is quite evident once they are rescued from their cabin in the woods (not one geared up with all kinds of scientific tools, nor monitored by guys in lab coats) and taken back to civilization.
Once resuced the girls go to live with their uncle and his girlfriend and this is where the story takes a bit of a tedious turn. The girlfriend (Annabel) is played by Jessica Chastain who is done up into the gothic grunge look so much, I honestly didn't recognize her in the trailer. Annabel plays in a rock band and drinks booze and we're first introduced to her when she's celebrating a negative pregnancy test. Yes, it turns out that Annabel isn't a fan of children. (Could this be the most hamfisted attempt at foreshadowing in the history of movies?) Her boyfriend, (Lucas) played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (the King Slayer in game of Thrones) has been searching for his twin brother and the girls since their disappearance and fights in court to gain custody of them. This uphill battle is eventually won thanks to the help of a psychiatrist who wants to continue to monitor the girls and even sets up the newly formed family in a McMansion that is owned by his institute.
Here the family tries to come together while Annabel continues to demonstrate just how little interest she has in raising the children. He lack of interest becomes her worst fear when Mama makes her first real claim on the children since she helped them become orphans. Mama opens up a hole in the wall that Lucas wants a closer look at. He is then flung down the stairs and ends up in the hospital, leaving Annabel and the girls alone in the house together.
All during these events, the girls (Victoria and Lilly) take tiny steps towards becoming more human than animal. Victoria is the older sister and still remembers life before they were in the woods. She begins to actually enjoy life in a house, with people who are at least willing to be parental. Lilly on the other hand steadfastly sticks to her life with Mama, still sleeping on the floor or under Victoria's bed and going out at night to "play" with Mama. Lilly also becomes a bit more accepting of the family, but clearly prefers the company of the ghostly creature.
With the uncle out of the picture, Mama seems to be getting a bit more bold and a bit more possessive and the usual scary noises and odd happenings in the house begin to manifest. 'Mama' does a fairly good job of making you wince and tense up from time to time, but there really isn't anything that a million other ghost stories haven't tried already. That also doesn't make it a bad horror movie either, its still entertaining to wonder when the ghost is going to truly reveal herself to the adults.
Where the movie, really goes off the rails is the final third of the flick. It almost seems as if the writers had a fairly good tale to tell, but couldn't figure out a way to resolve it. The mean, disapproving grandmother who wants the kids to herself popping up randomly seems forced as well and it turns out she's really nothing more than a needless vehicle for the ghost, both literally and as a way to add to the body count.
It is the ending that truly annoyed me. Without going into a great deal of details so as not to completely give it away, it was something that could have worked, but didn't; and maybe could have never really worked. I'm all for horror stories that don't have a totally happy ending, but the way Mama came about seemed a bit ... forced. I'm also one for not having every single loose string tied up in a bow. Allow for some imagination from the audience to decide once the cameras stopped rolling, but Mama seemed to end in a way that only made it possible for the survivors to see even more pain and suffering, just not of the supernatural variety. Horror stories aren't supposed to be feel good tails, but do you really want to leave a movie feeling depressed? Anxious and rattled I get. But this wasn't that feeling.
The movie isn't bad. The acting is actually quite good, even when they have to get around some dubious writing, but I was hoping for and expecting more from that third act. That's why I gave the movie three stars. It's not bad and definitely worth a rental, but the trailer is better than the movie by a good margin.