MAMA (Andy Muschietti, 2013)
That feeling you get when you should have watched the short film first, and saved yourself 100 minutes of anticipating for nothing.
MAMA, produced by "the" Guillermo Del Toro is based on the short film with the same name by Andy and Barbara Muschietti. Andy directs, and Barbara produces for the full-length version, and it's quite hard to summarize the story without spoiling the twist that has been the cliche of horror cinema since the dawn of time. Of course, we see Del Toro in the poster, and we immediately go for it, the same way that Spielberg, Scorsese, and James Cameron makes us grab our wallets faster than you can say, "popcorn, please!"
MAMA finds Oscar-nominee Jessica Chastain's Annabel (ZERO DARK THIRTY) playing adoptive mother to two abandoned children (Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nelisse) after years of isolation in a remote cabin. Her husband, Lucas (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau of TV's GAME OF THRONES) is uncle to the two girls, and both she and her husband decide to adopt the orphaned children, with close supervision by a psychologist, Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash). The setup at first is difficult, as the girls have dissociated themselves from the outside world, but that's only the tip of the iceberg for Annabel and Lucas.
The trouble with MAMA is that the film's prelude does not have anything to do at all with the central conflict, thus we are strapped in for about an hour and a half waiting for some earth-shattering revelation that doesn't come. Instead, the filmmakers deliver us a twist so undeniably cliched it belongs in a museum. The storytelling is surprisingly relaxed for a film that's supposed to scare the wits out of us, and the scares are predictably cheap. Also, the tone is overly dramatic in parts where it shouldn't be, and lacking in emotion at times it is most required.
The little girls act decently, though for the characters of traumatized children.
Familiar elements of the horror genre are present in MAMA: a troubled family, a vengeful ghost, a haunted house, insane asylums, buried secrets, and the use of flashback as a revelatory device. I can compare MAMA with SINISTER, another horror film with somewhat similar elements and story, but with definitely better exposition and ending. I mean, come on why did the ghost go to great lengths to secure the children when she could have taken them years ago?
In fairness to Chastain, she gives her all in a dead-end character that has nothing else to do but wait for things to unfold around her. Coster-Waldau, on the other hand is a placeholder, so that there's a dad in the picture. But the story focuses on the maternal side, as the title so overtly tells us.
The psychologist character, as with any other psychologist characters in recent memory is the one able to figure out the whole story, but not without consequences., as always.
I did not like the titular "mama" character, the ghost haunting the living characters. I do not share sympathies with her motivations. If it were me, I'd call a priest, or since she's a poltergeist, grab a sword or the nearest sharp instrument so we can all go home.