wogma rating: Add to 'must watch' list (?)

quick review:

Mama is an engaging horror film that works because of the mood that it creates. Executive-produced by Guillermo Del Toro, a master of the horror and fantasy genre, the film is dark and eerie, and it manages to spook you out despite relying strongly on familiar tricks of the horror genre. It also makes an emotional connect because of the underlying maternal facet of the story. In spite of a weak finish, Mama makes for a fair one-time watch.

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Director: Andrés Muschietti
Running time: 100 minutes
Genres: Horror, Thriller
More Movie Info

The smartest move from the makers of Mama was putting ‘Guillermo Del Toro presents’ in big, bold letters on the posters of the film. That is enough to draw fans of the supernatural genre and cinephiles in general to the theatres. Directed by Andrés Muschietti, Mama is an old-fashioned horror film that works in spite of familiar tropes, because of the cold, stark feel of the film, and a story that connects with the viewer on a primal level.

I must confess right now that I’ve never been scared while watching a horror film, and this time was no different. For me, Mama was a well-shot, moody and engaging story of maternal instinct that transcends rational human thought. So when I say that Mama works as a ‘horror’ film, I’m basing this opinion based on the gasps and nervous laughter I heard from my co-audience in the theater, and the grown man next to me who had his hands in his ears and his head buried into the shoulder of the woman sitting next to him.

A brief prologue introduces us to Jeffrey, a depressed man who, after murdering his wife, kidnaps his two young daughters and disappears under mysterious circumstances. Cut to five years later, when two men hired by Jeffrey’s brother, Lucas (who never gave up the hope of finding his two nieces again) finally find the two girls tucked away in an abandoned cabin. Except that the girls are less human and more beast-like, because of prolonged isolation from mankind. Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel take the girls in, hoping to rehabilitate them with the help of Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss, a psychiatrist. Things, of course, don’t go as planned for Lucas and Annabel.

Right from the outset, the mood of the film sucks you in. The washed out, sepia tone of the film as it opens, gradually becoming more gray as the film progresses, until the end, which is, for all intents and purposes, black – the film creates atmosphere that is hard not to be taken in by. Expectedly, the film has ample shots of shadows suddenly crossing your field of vision, startling use of the dark parts of a frame to deliver a few chills, sharp cuts accompanied by a screeching background score to shock you – all familiar turf for those who've any experience with horror cinema. Little girls, of course, make for excellent horror film subjects and this movie has two of them – enough to keep the audience on tenterhooks through the film.

If the technique of the film aids in creating a tense, chilling mood, it is Jessica Chastain’s performance as Annabel that creates the emotional connect that a film like this really needs. From bass guitarist in a rock band to a reluctant mother, her performance makes the transformation of her character believable, and most of the film’s best moments involve her and the supernatural force in the film.

However, the seemingly crisp 100-minute runtime of the film is actually a tad too long for its own good. The strength of a horror film really lies in the portions where nothing is actually happening. It is the anticipation of something happening that almost always contributes to scaring the daylights out of the audience. Mama works best when the supernatural figure isn’t fully revealed. However once the audience actually sees the figure in its entirety, most of the fear element is sucked out. Proceedings eventually get a tad repetitive, and the climax lacks the kind of tension that would leave the audience on a nerve-wracking high. (Yes, the man next to me took his fingers out of his ears in the last fifteen minutes.) Also, I personally felt that the supernatural figure in the film is just not scary enough, because it looks too obviously computer-generated.

Still, Mama works primarily because the moments of anticipation in the film almost always have the audience chewing away at more than just their fingernails. Mama is actually the kind of film which would be fun to watch in a packed cinema hall, because there is just something about being a part of a large group that flinches, jerks and gasps all at the same time. While I wasn’t a part of the audience that reacted physically and audibly in my show, I still enjoyed the occasional spooky startle. Occasionally turning to my right to watch a grown man behave like a baby was the icing on the cake.

This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at

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This page has additional observations, other than the ones noted in the main review.

Parental Guidance:

  • Violence: Gory, startling scenes of supernatural violence
  • Language: Clean
  • Nudity & Sexual content: Very brief scene of intimacy
  • Concept: A story about a protective mother, with a twist
  • General Look and Feel: Dark, cold feel through the film

Detailed Ratings (out of 5):

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