(The gist: I enjoyed Mama enough. Its main shortcoming for me was that it was a ghost horror movie, and I just do not particularly enjoy that subgenre. I was able to appreciate the premise of the movie and its presentation, specifically Guillermo del Toro’s unmistakable mark on the movie.)
It is no secret that I am not the greatest fan of ghost, haunting, or supernatural horror. I prefer the psychological or the more “real.” Nonetheless, I continue to watch them, to audition them and give them the opportunity to sway my preference.
Mama made a decent effort. The film follows two children who are abandoned in a remote cabin after their father murders their mother. Then are then protected by a supernatural entity they call “Mama” for five years before they are discovered. They are placed with their uncle and his girlfriend, but Mama follows them.
First, I will say, feral children are terrifying. The girls are only feral for a brief scene before they are institutionalized and begin being socialized back. However, as the mother of two, I can attest that children, at their core, are little savages. Sometimes this unadulterated savagery can be scary. Unsocialized people naturally unnerve us, and somehow, this is even more terrifying and amplified in children.
Also, as a mother, the idea of two children losing their parents and being left to fend for themselves and be adopted by a sadistic ghost also struck close to a nerve. Both of these ideas are foundations to the plot and set the scene as both creepy and intriguing.
True to a ghost story, once the initial creep factor is introduced, the movie continues as somewhat of a slow burn. Not much actually happens; most is suggested and hinted at, which is how haunting tales should be portrayed since that is the nature of a haunting itself. Mama moves a bit too slow at times but not enough to warrant abandoning the movie.
The film offers several frightening instances and builds the suspense through subtlety well. I found Annabelle’s dreams to be the most haunting and effective horror imagery in the movie. Mama, as a ghost, was effective enough. However, I somewhat missed her origin story. I know they addressed it in the movie, but it must have occurred during one of the lulls when I had begun to tune out a little. I found myself asking my viewing partner to fill in me in towards the climax of the feature.
One of the issues I have with ghost horror movies is that for all the suspense and suggestion and building, the reveal usually ends up feeling anticlimactic by the time you reach it. I do not know what I would need to make the foreplay seem worth it, but I do know that most haunting movies fail to deliver it. The ghost in Mama is adequately creepy, especially scurrying and scratching at the characters on all fours, yet still when we meet her, I just felt eh.
I did like the style and the premise of the movie though. After watching copious amounts (and absolutely loving) The Strain, I could recognize Guillermo del Toro’s influence on the film. And I appreciated every bit of his style infused into the movie. I relish the way he presents fear, the imagery and sound he uses. Being able to identify it made me enjoy watching all the more.
Mama was a decent ghost movie; however, like the rest of its subgenre, it fell short of being an impressive horror movie for me.