I completely forgot about this! Watched it last week, and promptly never got around to reviewing it.
Long-time readers may recall I wasn't too thrilled with the last movie that had Guillermo Del Toro's handprint on it, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. It wasn't bad, but something about it never clicked. I wanted to see Mama, but never bothered in the theatres, in part because of that (Even though Del Toro was only producing) and because the trailers made me cringe just a little bit, and not in a good horror way.
Which makes me SO pleased that after watching the DVD, I so enjoyed it!
The story is about a man who one day snaps and kills his co-workers and wife, and while taking his kids away to escape capture, he crashes deep into the middle of a wintery nowhere. He finds his way to a shack and uses it as shelter for himself and the kids, but it's not long before something attacks and kills him.
Cut to several years later, when his twin brother, who never gave up searching, finds the cabin, and the kids, still alive and having gone a wee bit feral over all this time in the woods and no other human interaction.
Note the 'human' part of that sentence. Because while the kids were left out there, they were not alone. Whatever killed their father took care of them. A something that follows them back to civilisation to watch over them, and something that they call Mama.
The plot unfolds quite well from there, with a lot of good creepy moments and scares, in that definitive Del Toro style. He may have only produced, but you can tell he had his hands in this. In good ways, and bad ways.
Del Toro's style is often quite terrifying, but also has this tendency to switch in an instant over to something more...whimsical. And that is located here as well, sadly enough. It doesn't ruin the movie, but the occasional silly or cute look to something we are supposed to be afraid of undercuts things just a little, in those few moments it happens.
Fortunately, it only happens when we're supposed to be sympathising with the creature, seeing its human side, both figuratively, and literally. So at least it makes sense thematically, and makes it more palletable.
Most importantly, the movie actually ends with a satisfying ending. Something that can be so rare in hrror these days. It's not necessarily a HAPPY ending, but things are resolved, and explained adequately enough, and you are left with a sense of closure and hope. I'm all for ambiguous endings, or sequel baiting, but these things have become so prevalent in horror movies, you almost forget what a legitimate *ending* is!
Probably the biggest problem is that the movie may not have the most original elements to it. You will find many familiar tropes. But they are put together in a new way, with its own style, that you can almost forget that nagging feeling of familiarity it sometimes has.
The cast is great, with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau doing a dual role of the brothers, and you really feel his pain at losing his family so many years ago, and the hope at rebuilding it again. Jessica Chastain as his girlfriend who gets put in the unenviable position of trying to take care of the kids when she doesn't want to also puts in a way better performance than such a role would normally receive. Even the kids aren't annoying.
Mama was a real treat to watch, both from a storytelling point of view, and visually. Even on his bad days, even on a movie Del Toro just sneezed at, the movie has a distinctive style that is entrancing. It may not be the most original horror movie, it may have its own quirks, but those are also its charm, and I think it works.