Argentinian filmmaker Andrés Muschietti makes his directorial debut with a feature length reworking of his original short film. Unfortunately, his efforts result in a flawed experience that is a long way short of a classic piece of horror filmmaking, but as a thriller it is absolutely watchable.
Much like the original 2008 Spanish-language short film of the same name, this chilling thriller tells the haunting tale of a young couple who adopt two little girls they find abandoned in a decrepit cabin in the woods. As they look to begin their new life and raise a family they soon discover that the young sisters had disappeared the day their mother was murdered and now a supernatural force is intent on claiming them back.
This modern haunted-house horror sees much sought after actress Jessica Chastain star alongside Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, best known for his role as Jaime Lannister for HBO’s acclaimed television series Game of Thrones. Their characters, Annabel and Lucas, a laid back musician and struggling artist respectively, are certainly unfamiliar territory for these remarkable talents, particularly Chastain who is barely recognisable as the “rocker chick”. Nonetheless, they are both comfortable and confident in their performances and build convincing characters and an authentic on screen relationship brimming with genuine emotion.
The most impressive aspect of their performances is they way in which they interact with the young girls. Coster-Waldau brings sincerity and honesty to his role as the young girls’ uncle who must begin raising his nieces like they’re his own, but it’s Chastain who truly excels as Annabel becomes a reluctant step mother and learns to care for the children she didn’t intend on. With the aid of two incredible performances from the two child actors Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse, these dramatic interactions are always emotionally charged and ensure that the ensuing battle of wills between the supernatural and the living worlds is as compelling as possible.
However, the narrative never truly translates from a short and the mountain of information thrust onto the audience gives the impression that the film is constantly trying to justify itself, particularly its extensive fantasy elements. Worst of all however is its presentation of horror. While the film initially contains an effective use of genre conventions, it soon resorts to excessive jump scares that soon lose their impact over the course of the film. Then again, there is an exceptionally eerie atmosphere surrounding the narrative – no doubt the result of Guillermo del Toro’s involvement as producer. Having begun with a chilling opening third that will haunt you long after the credits roll, its disappointing that the subsequent scenes are almost instantly forgettable.
With an eager creator at the helm, talented actors in unfamiliar roles and the stamp of approval from horror producing legend Guillermo del Toro, Mama doesn’t reach its true potential and nor does it present the outlandish innovation expected from a debut filmmaker, but in no way is it as generic or annoying as many modern horrors.