REVIEW: Mama (dir. Andres Muschietti, 2013)


Five years
after being abandoned in a Cabin in The Woods, two young sisters are found by their uncle and his girlfriend and prepare to start over. The girls owe their survival to a mysterious entity they call Mama, but is Mama just a figment of their imagination? Of course she bloody isn’t, and she’s not too happy to have them taken from her, either. Stevie Daly reviews…

 

The curse of (insert famed genre director) presents… tends to be most felt with horror. When Quentin Tarantino presents…, be wary. When Wes Craven presents…, RUN FOR THE HILLS! But del Toro is one of the rare exceptions to the rule; whether lending his name to the classy, gothic haunted house scares of The Orphanage and Julia’s Eyes or the twisted fairytale frolics of Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark, Guillermo del Toro presents… pictures come with the hope of being strong enough to stand out on their own from under the shadow of that introduction.

Adapting his own short film, director Andres Muschietti makes an impressive feature debut, mixing the old horror staples of creepy children, dark spirits and unbelieving adults with sly humour and gothic grandeur alongside a refreshing sense of originality – even more impressive considering that everything you see has essentially been done many times before.

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When Lily and Victoria are saved from certain death by a monstrous shadow but then taken back to civilization by the ridiculously good looking Nicolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) and Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) you just know there’s gonna be trouble. Never mind the fact that the girls have reverted to an animalistic state; that monstrous shadow seems to have come with them, and when not playfully swinging them around the ceiling it’s out to attack anything that threatens its new ‘family’.

The two young actresses are brilliantly creepy as the wild things, clambering through and over the trappings of suburbia with wolfish snarls or baleful silence. Coster-Waldau doesn’t have to do much other than be hunky and/or tormented as both Uncle Lucas and the girls’ dad (two for the price of one!) while Chastain brings a touch of class, warmth and strength to the sort of character normally played as a vapid scream queen/damsel in distress. When she’s getting attacked by the babysitter from Hell, you care, even if she’s inexplicably portrayed as a punk rock reject from The Runaways.

The real praise however should be reserved for Mama herself. A Frankenstein’s monster mash-up of Sadako, the Alien Queen and del Toro’s own Pale Man (not to mention the clattering, curious super-roaches of his English language debut Mimic), Mama is both terrifying and beautiful, at once Mother and Monster. From clever, disquieting glimpses (look out for the recurring gags using doorframes) to the heart-pounding flashbulb reveal and the occasional dip into grotesque Cronenberg-style body horror the filmmakers hit only a few bum notes when bringing her to half-life.

It all ultimately adds up to a familiar ride – and one with plot holes to spare – but there are enough unexpected flourishes and an ending of the sort so tragically enchanting that Tim Burton wouldn’t dare try it these days that anybody brave enough to jump on board is pretty much guaranteed a good time.

Mama is released Friday 22nd Feb, rated 15

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