Movie Review: Mama (2013)

‘Mama’ scares: Supernatural drama ‘calm, creepy, dramatic,’ 77%

Todd Miller | Writer

In only watching the trailer for “Mama,” I expected the film to be an hour and a half of horror clichés, one after another.
However, “Mama” is also produced by the same man who directed and produced “Pan’s Labrynth,” so I was willing to give it a shot. I was glad to find that the film held a pleasant surprise.
The movie starts with two little girls being taken to the woods by their father, where he intends to kill them and himself. But their father suddenly goes missing, and the girls are left alone in the woods for five years. After they’re found, however, they say they had been cared for by someone they call “Mama.” The girls are taken in by their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), but something seems to have followed them from that cabin by the lake.

Jessica Chastian, Isabelle Nelisse and Megan Carpenter in "Mama" (Universal).

Jessica Chastian, Isabelle Nelisse and Megan Carpenter in “Mama” (Universal).

The first half of the movie starts with all the expectations of a cliché horror. There’s great use of darkness, occasional jump-scares to keep the audience on edge, the use of held violin chords and the use of old and creepy imagery. It all comes together as overly done and boring.
Honestly, “Mama” is more like a supernatural drama dressed up as a horror, rather than a straight-up horror movie, and that helped make it a lot more enjoyable, despite it making use of the tired, old, horror tropes.
I also must compliment a lot of the acting. Much of it was well done, but I need to make special mention of the child actresses for the characters Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse). The girls played two similar, but distinct characters (very well written, I should add), and both dperformed ably, for such young actresses. Because of their situation, Lilly was meant to be animalistic and antisocial, and the young Nélisse did a fantastic job conveying this. At the same time, Victoria was meant to be more thoughtful and dramatic, and Charpentier could convey the character marvelously.
The graphical effects, where they existed, were nicely done. This is primarily to do with Mama (Javier Botet) herself. She was created to look something like a human crossed with a wisp of smoke and a puppet. The effect comes across as enchanting, but extremely creepy, which fits Mama’s role perfectly.
The score is worth mentioning as well. Although the horror-norm of music existed (the long-held creepy violin chords), “Mama” also gave its audience something of a treat. Mama has a lullaby for the girls, which they also sing, but this leitmotif also starts appearing in the movie’s score in the latter-part of the film, and it is rescored to constantly fit the appropriate mood: calm, creepy, dramatic, scary, ect., but always associated with Mama and the girls.
In all, “Mama” does still show the tired clichés of a horror film, but also presents a lot of its own great material. While horror fans should be able to enjoy the movie, non-horror fans may also enjoy it if they like an intriguing ghost story.

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