Not going to lie to you, I was damn excited for Mama. Watching the trailer suggested to me that this was going to be a gritty, well-filmed horror flick that hopefully took its time, dug at the psychology and creepiness of feral children, and maybe even a bit of philosophy to boot.
Unfortunately it wasn’t really any of these things. But I’m not going to say it was bad either.
The story was very well written. While lacking in much depth, with characters who felt a bit more like plot-puppets than plot-drivers at times, and an end that unraveled in a way that was so clunky compared to the relative intensity of the first 90% it seemed almost to be a different writer completely, the overall story was solid.
The end, though with laugh-inducing CGI and, as I said, with an undeniable clunkiness, it was mostly satisfying (a trait altogether lacking in most horror movies these days). One half of me says yeah, maybe the end was a bit too, ah, storybook–in a way that contrasted the promised grittiness–the other half says it actually worked in a kind of Del Toro way that blends a bit of childlike magic with–well, creepy fingers.
The movie was genuinely unsettling for the first three quarters, until they put the glasses back on the camera lens and decided to show you the monster–It’s movies like this that prove the adage, KEEP YOUR MONSTERS IN THE GODDAMN SHADOWS. And save the cartoons for Saturday morning.
The cinematography was nothing to remark upon, and right out of the gate threw distracting amounts of CGI in what was otherwise a rather normal crash-while-driving-in-the-snow scene. In a movie that demanded reflection of the very grittiness of a childhood in the wild, the CGI made it feel fake, and cheapened a kind of genuine horror experience.
The glimmers of philosophical dialogue were forced and clumsy and only really applied in the most rudimentary of ways to the plot. (Is it a spoiler to suggest that the ghost has unfinished business?) After what could have been a far deeper play between reality and imagination, between psychological trauma and the nature of ferality, in the dynamic between mothers and daughters, and the timeless American horror play: between the wild and civilization, we instead get a kind of extended monster-of-the-week story. Disappointing, but not altogether unexpected these days.
Now, I can’t promise you won’t shake your head and laugh a time or three during, that you won’t turn to your ladyfriend after the movie, as I did to mine, and with a half-frown say, “I guess it wasn’t… bad.” But I can promise it’s a good ride. It’s certainly better than Sinister, The Apparition, The Possession, and half the other half-assed horror movies from the fall months in 2012. In fact I’d go so far as to say this movie could have been brilliant if the right director got a hold of this script thirty years ago.
But saying it’s special would be a lie.
Karl Pfeiffer is a ghost hunter, novelist, and blogger/vlogger. After winning the first season of the reality spinoff series Ghost Hunters Academy, he went on to work briefly with the Ghost Hunters International team. He published his first novel, Hallowtide, shortly after graduating Colorado State University where he studied Creative Writing and Religion. He now works at the Stanley Hotel leading the weekend public ghost hunts. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com