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Necessary Evil: Horror movie set in total darkness
The last movie Guillermo del Toro presented was that cinematic let down Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark in 2011 (I still don't get how they mucked that one up) so yeah I came into MAMA with my guard up. So what did I think? Well it was better than Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark that's for sure but the problems I had with it were the same that I had with the former, just on a lesser degree.
MAMA was an expansion of director Andrés Muschietti pretty cool 2008 short film of the same name (watch it here). Guillermo saw it, was wowed by it, so he put up the coin for the feature. And on a technical standpoint, the flick did not disappoint! Muschietti (in his feature lenght directorial debut) displayed superior skills behind the lens. I was impressed! If like me you're a style whore and you get off on out there angles, creative shots/camera movements, then you'll be well served here. I caught myself thinking “Damn that was a great shot” many o time during this watch, so kudos for that! Cinematographer Antonio Riestra lent a severed hand in making this one look macabre sweet too! I grooved to the flickering lights, the way darkness was conveyed and the chill inducing plays with shadows. All of those elements and the brilliant manner in which they were handled added further oppressiveness to the fear scenes at hand. Speaking of fear, scare wise, although we got a frick load of easy boo scares (with the soundtrack going real LOUD of course) Muschietti also winged some tension laced bits and a handful of eerie set pieces that had me by the boulders and then some! So yeah... I appreciated those.
And what about the creature you may ask? Well I loved the design for it and when hinted at, the thing was damn freaky (it had J-Horror ways of making its presence known... brrr). Thankfully the way they created "it" was by way of practical effects that were then enhanced by CGI in Post. So it looked more grounded and fleshier than say a full on CG creation. Worked for me (till I saw too much of it near the end, but I let it go). Finally the cast was impressive. Recent Oscar nominated (for Zero Dark Thirty) Jessica Chastain was credible as Annabel. Too bad I found her character unlikeable for the first hour of the movie (and she's the lead). I know you have dyed black hair and tats, but smile girl, maybe the kids (and me) will like you more if you do. On his end, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau won me over as the caring uncle (he actually played two roles here, good job, I didn't catch on that it was him). The film underused him during the middle section though which was a shame. I wanted to see more of him. But the top performance belonged to young Megan Charpentier as Victoria. She said so much with her eyes and physicality and when she spoke, she was very convincing. She displayed a very mature show for somebody that young (12 years old) and on top of that, basically acted as the heart of the movie. Add to that a couple of potent "pull at the heart string moments" and an occasional Fairy Tale vibe that I found endearing and you get a horror film that slammed down some Aces on the table.
So what was the problemo then? Well, that's an easy one. The story! Alas, it felt like what it was, a short film stretched out into a feature. After a while the happenings got a wee bit redundant and I started wondering WHY our lead gal wasn't wising up quicker to what was going down right in front of her eyeballs. And what made that ailment even worse was that in a pretty dumb move, the movie gave away all of its cards early on, so that meant the mystery as to what was going on was out the window and all I kept doing was wait for the lead chacaters to catch up with what I already knew. Then we had the predicatble turn of events irking me. Yup this one didn't stray far from the standard horror mold when it came to its 1-2-3. So same thing happened, the flick would toss something out there, I knew where it would lead down the road, and again, I had to wait for it to get to it already. The result was that the pacing came off as more sluggish than it should have been and of course, the flick didn't take me aback very often. Transparent was the word!
So all in all, yes I enjoyed MAMA. It looked fantastic, sported solid performances and delivered the creepy! That script needed more work though. So you gonna listen to Mama or tell her to step off?!