Friday, January 18, 2013

'Mama' Review

"Mama" is the tale of two girls who lived in a nice house in suburbia. When the stock markets crashed, their father killed their mother and took them on a ride into the woods. They came upon an abandoned cabin, and there their father was going to kill them and then himself. But the cabin wasn't really abandoned. A ghost was there, searching for her lost infant. She saw the girl's father about to kill them, she killed him before he could harm them. She then became the girl's mother and kept them alive by feeding them cherries.

Five years later, the girl's uncle Lucas Desange, has spent his life savings looking for them. On what appears to be the last day that the hunters will go out to search of the girls, they find them. The girls are feral and have lived like animals.

When the girls are taken to live with their uncle and his girlfriend Annabel (who clearly isn't ready to have kids) Mama follows them to their new home, and shortly thereafter, the jealous ghost begins to terrorize the family in an attempt to get her girls back.

This ghost movie lends a few new things to the genre, which is a good thing, such as the fairy tale story line and the ghost character design. How Mama moves, interacts and attacks people is unique and quite intense to watch on-screen. There were a few times when I was genuinely scared, but I was quickly jolted out of the suspenseful atmosphere by the ungodly loud score that someone felt was necessary to include in the film.

The ghost, Mama herself, was a great monster. I loved the utterly alien character design and the way her body appeared to be that of a broken corpse. The actor that played her, Javier Botet, was great. (Javier played the demon girl at the end of [REC] and has played several parts that required a very tall and lanky person to portray the monsters.)

I also loved the fact that Mama was played by a real person, that most of the special effects were done with wires and latex, and that the only thing that was CG in the movie was the ghost's hair, which waved around above her head as though she was submerged under water in a lake.

Unfortunately, the good things about the movie are far outweighed by the bad. "Mama" suffers from lazy story telling, and drowns under a cumbersome soundtrack/score with music that ruins any tense moments of suspense that the director builds up by being obnoxiously loud.

For instance, when Annabel is playing her bass guitar in the kitchen and is distracted by the flickering lights and the strange voices on her amp speaker, instead of getting incredibly quiet to leave the audience disturbed by the plinking sound of the lights flickering and the whispering voices, a very loud violin trill starts, leaving the audience jumping at the sound, instead of being scared by the fact that Lilly has leapt up on the counter behind Annabel and is staring at her like a predatory animal that is ready to pounce on its prey.

Over and over again, the audience is assaulted by jump scares created by horribly loud sounds from the movie's score. It was like being in one of those haunted house carnival rides; you don't jump because the skeleton pops out at you, you jump and scream because that damned air horn just went off in your ear. It's loud and startling. Kind of like those lame screamer videos on Youtube. Like this one.

That's what watching "Mama" is like.

I found that to be very disappointing  because even though the movie is flawed and riddled with plot holes and filled with unnecessary characters and scenes that could have very easily been cut from the movie, overall it was a decent film.

In addition to the terrible score, the pacing of the film seemed a bit off, and there were scenes, such as those with the child psychiatrist Dr. Dreyfuss that were cheesy, such as when he goes to speak with the record keeper/archivist of the county and she point-blank tells him that ghosts are made when something bad happens, and a wrong needs to be righted.

Really? I had no idea that some ghosts were vengeful mo-fos hell-bent on destroying anything that reminded them of the injustice surrounding their deaths. Honestly, that sort of audience hand-holding isn't necessary as it is common folklore, and knowledge that is implied as the events unfold in the movie.

It's this type of ham-handedness that breaks my suspension of disbelief, and unfortunately, "Mama" suffers from this type of a lack of subtlety on all counts. The audience isn't allowed to put all the pieces together, there is no mystery to solve, and the characters don't have to surpass any sort of challenge to get their answers.

For instance, there's a dark creepy black spot on the wall encircled by a wreath of flowers that the girl's drew. This black spot is how Mama gets into the house. When she isn't out and about doing her haunting thing, she passes through it and stays in the wall. It's a ghost portal. Dr. Dreyfuss figures this out right after he sees it, we know because his voice-over tells us.

A ghost portal you say? Interesting...

Huh. Really? That's a portal? I had no idea that's what that was used for. It's just that the ghost's freaking hands come right out of the dang thing while we're watching and she pulls herself out of the wall and attacks people.

I'm not sure why some directors decide that the audience is too stupid to put two and two together and get four, but it's really annoying for me to have to sit through such insufferable dialog that hits you over the head with information, instead of slowly revealing what is going on and letting your imagination do some of the work for you.

Aside from the jump scares and the not-so-subtle exposition sequences,  there are also several dangling plot threads that occur that are just strange. For instance, the foreshadowing that occurs during the opening credits in the children's drawings. I thought for sure that the poor Dachshund was going to become feral children chow, after seeing the drawings of them killing and eating raccoons, but it wasn't.

In fact, the dog was one of the weirdest things about this movie. For the most part, it's common in ghost movies for dogs to freak out and start barking angrily at the presence or attempt to attack the ghost, or at the very least, get jumpy and bite their owners when in the presence of the supernatural. However, in "Mama" the dog ran happily towards the ghost, it's little wiener dog tail wagging as it was greeted by the dead woman. Right around the third act (where the movie really starts to fall apart) the dog disappears.  Nothing happens to it, we don't see it dead, or devoured or anything. It's just gone.

It's around that time as well that the movie cannot decide if it's late fall or early spring, if it's hot or cold out, nor what time of day it is. It's either day, or it's night in a scene. There is no transition between the two. Sunset? Who needs a sunset? Not me.

During this time, we also see a random ghost of the girls' dad (yes the one that tried to kill them) appear and tell their uncle where to find them after Mama takes them back.

Uncle Lucas goes to the woods, then like the poor wiener dog, he disappears, only to pop out in front of the car when Annabel is driving to the cabin to find the girls. Their uncle, who was a key player in the beginning of the story, suddenly becomes a two-bit character with a glass jaw.

Apparently he's just there to be knocked out while Annabel, with her new-found maternal instinct musters the strength to fight off the ghost's "sleep spell" three times in an effort to grab the girls and take them back from the ghost before she kills them.

While it wasn't the best ghost movie I've ever seen, it certainly wasn't the worst either, it's kind of in the middle. "Mama" is interesting to watch, even with it's flaws, and the actors did a fantastic job on the film as a whole. The only thing that tips it more towards the bad movie category in my mind is the fact that the score killed any sort of suspense that the director and actors managed to conjure on the screen.

I'd watch it again, but at home, where I can control the volume and put the bass to a tolerable level so that I'm not jumping out of my skin whenever a big jump scare starts to build up. Violin trills, I'm talking about you.