It’s fair to say that Mama, the latest in the “Guillermo del Toro presents” series of horror movies is the saddest horror movie I’ve seen since the last horror movie in the GdTp series, El Orfanata. It’s actually even sadder.
I can’t remember a horror movie that had me on the verge of tears throughout most of it. Even The Boy admitted to tearing up at the end.
Because it’s amazingly fucking sad.
I’m not sorry for swearing because I want you to be prepared if you go see this film. It’s the story of a couple of girls (age 1 and 3) who are discovered by their uncle after being lost in the woods for five years, and who have gone feral. And, this is not a spoiler, they’ve been raised by a ghost they call “Mama”.
This setup for this is basically the movie opener, and the story of how the girls get out into the woods is, in itself, amazingly tragic.
From a genre perspective, this is an interesting tack that isn’t much taken, except (apparently) by Spaniards: I often talk about how horror movies can be fun, or not fun, but this is a rare type of horror movie that goes for, and achieves, poignancy.
There are no throwaway characters. The dialogue is not wince-inducing; it’s even smart. Even when certain aspects of the film are predictable, they are handled with more sensitivity and intelligence than you get in most horror movies, where you can tell the whole point of character X is for the boogen to have someone to kill.
For the classic case-in-point, at one point our heroes, portrayed by Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (best known as the evil Jamie Lannister, here a straight up good guy) are trying to negotiate the girls away from their unpleasant aunt (played by Jane Moffat, who also does Mama’s voice, and is way more pleasant than she appears here), and manage to do so through the conniving of a psychiatrist played by Daniel Kash.
(The acting, I note, is rather good. Down to the little girls, who are beautiful and kind of haunting, but even when kind of creepily feral, just little girls and not demon-children.)
Anyway, the thing is, you know, in horror movie terms that both the Aunt and the Psych Must Die at Mama’s hands. The way this is usually done is to have them be cartoonishly evil (and the aunt kinda is, but her motivation is strong and pretty comprehensible). But The Psych in the horror movie is usually a double-whammy of cartooniness, because he’s both self-motivated and so smug about his sense of reality, that he never believes any evidence until he’s killed by the boogen.
Not what happens here. Kash plays a character who is ambitious and sees fame and fortune in the girls, but he’s also honest enough to recognize that something is going on. This does lead to him doing something almost inexplicably dumb, but, hey, it’s still a horror movie.
There are a lot of little surprises here and there, but ultimately we have a horror movie that rests on the strength of its characterizations. Sure, there are a few shocks, the atmosphere is great, and the story is satisfying, but this is in the end a movie that wants to use the supernatural as a way to rip your heart out and grind it into the dirt.
I mean, we’re talking the Brian’s Song of horror movies. It’s sad.
We liked it, and we liked it more and more, the more we discussed it. Great script by Andres and Barbara Muschetti, co-written with director Neil Cross. Tasteful CGI, for the most part; necessarily heavy at the end in a way that I suspect won’t age that well. Fernando Velasquez, who also did El Orfanata, score hits the spot.
I’m gonna give a special shout out to Chastain and her Joan Jett impersonation. This movie ultimately works because she is a character who goes from not wanting to be a mother, to doing what has to be done, to loving the little girls.
I don’t know why, but every time I see her in a movie I think “Oh, you’re not so great. Impress me.” And every time, she seems to do so. I mean, when was the last time you saw a horror movie and thought, “Wow, that’s a subtle, convincing performance of a complex character?”
Yeah. Wild, huh? So, recommended. If you don’t my crying your fucking eyes out.