Once upon a time a father killed his wife and drove his car off the road with his two young daughters inside. The two young girls survive the crash, and a further attempt on their lives by their father, and live in the all too familiar cabin in the woods for five years before they are discovered by an incredibly inefficient search party. In the intervening years the girls have been cared for by a mysterious apparition they call Mama and have become feral in the manner that it more familiar in teenage boys than prepubescent girls. The girls move in with their uncle, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister to you and me), and his girlfriend, Jessica Chastain in unconvincing goth garb, and try to settle into regular life while Mama pays them visits and generally gets up in everyone’s business.
As a horror called “Bloody scary” by The Sun, “A superior supernatural shocker” by the Daily Express, and with Guillermo del Toro producing and “presenting” the film I was expecting the film leave me petrified. I am notoriously susceptible to horror films and have screamed my way through the weakest of scares but Mama did nothing for me. It elicits more yawns than screams and I was falling asleep towards the end. I realise I am prone to napping when films get too long but with a running time of just 100 minutes I should have been able to remain conscious throughout. I don’t mean to besmirch the good name of The Sun and the Daily Express but either their comments were taken out of context or they have a lower fear threshold than even me.
There are a few good creepy moments: The girls do some good creepy crawling and scuttling before they regain their ability to walk on two feet and there is a scene in which a flashbulb is used as a form of self-defence which reminded me of the only good moment in Apollo 18 which should otherwise be avoided at all costs. Mama herself is not an inherently scary figure. Her long reaching arms reminded me in a distraction fashion of an old Dead Ringers impression of Andrew Marr and a lot of the time the family seemed to be haunted more by persistent damp than a benevolent spirit.
The ending was briefly a pleasant surprise before becoming slightly ridiculous; a brief glimmer of hope amongst a dark and dreary mess. I didn’t care about any of the characters so even if the film had managed to properly scare me I wouldn’t have actually been worried for their safety. Coster-Waldau came across as an ignorant fool while Chastain seemingly forgot how to act and it was hard to believe that she is currently at the peak of her Oscar nominated career. As for Guillermo del Toro… I once saw his name as a mark of quality but now it is as redundant as a foreword by Stephen Fry – every book has one and the quality is far from consistent.
Mama is available to buy on both DVD and Blu-ray from today. The DVD version of the film has no extras to speak of whereas the Blu-ray features a commentary, various featurettes, and the original short film. I’d say this would be a reason to go for the Blu-ray but honestly you’d be better off buying Pan’s Labyrinth instead as it is both better and cheaper.