Posted February 5, 2013 by Mikael Angelo Francisco in Movies/TV


Universal Pictures, Solar-UIP
Philippine Release Date: February 6, 2013
MTRCB Rating: PG-13
100 minutes

Once upon a time, Guillermo del Toro sat down and watched a short film. It was a 2-minute 44-second horror short by filmmaker Andrés Muschietti (see it HERE, with an introduction by del Toro), and for all its simplicity and brevity, something about it really clicked. Muschietti’s work so impressed del Toro that he contacted the Argentinean director and offered to produce a full-length version of his hair-raising work.

Let’s get this out of the way as early as now - Mama offers nothing new to the table. It employs pretty much every trick you’ve ever seen in movies like The Grudge and Shutter. Shaky camera angles, characters moving at an accelerated rate, disgusting symbolism, light tricks and shock tactics – you name it, this movie probably has it.

However, to paraphrase an oft-quoted saying, it’s not exactly the tools that matter, but how you use them, and in this regard, Mama shines and places itself firmly above most horror films.

Muschietti manages to keep you on the edge of your seat from the first ten minutes. Telling the story of two girls who were left to fend for themselves in a dilapidated cottage in the woods for five years, Mama is a film that relies heavily on masterful framing and heart-stopping timing.

The years the girls had spent in the woods had turned them savage, but in varying degrees: while the elder sister managed to maintain some semblance of her sanity, the younger one (who was only 3 years old when they were left there) was too trained in the ways of the wild to be re-integrated into civilization.

Even more disturbing than their propensity for walking on all fours and chanting at night is the nightmarish tale that we learn about through the course of the film – the story of a ghostly mother, perhaps an imaginary friend of theirs, who had taken care of them during their stay in the woods and developed an attachment for them.

One who apparently followed them all the way back to the city…

Perhaps the most captivating thing about Mama is that it delivers horror without having to resort to explicit gore. Death remains an integral part of the narrative, and of course there are casualties in the film from beginning to end, but the film embraces this without the usual blood splatter and severed heads that Hollywood horror movies seem to abuse relentlessly. Come to think of it, Mama is basically a Hollywood adaptation of an Asian-styled horror film spawned from the mind of an Argentinian and the pockets of a Mexican.

The spotlight  definitely falls on the reluctant yet loving mother figure ( Jessica Chastain) and the two wild children (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse). The scenes that show them slowly and awkwardly trying to form a parent-to-children bond are genuinely heartwarming, despite being few and wedged between shock scenes.

Unfortunately, there is very little emotional weight felt at the end of the film – a shame, really, as it is certain that the ending was meant to be both dark and heart-wrenching. At least it IS dark, and not something we usually see in most horror movies.

Additionally, the movie loses quite a bit of impact precisely because of its funding. The main spook of the film, Mama herself, is rendered in CGI, and while her animated hair and seemingly drug-fueled movements work excellently in scenes shrouded in darkness, all it takes is the first close-up shot of Mama and the film automatically loses points for overall fright factor. The entirety of the original short is right in the middle of the film, but was also modified to flow better with the rest of the narrative.

Watch it – you’ll get your money’s worth, for sure. It’s legitimately creepy, and while the movie is essentially a pastiche of almost every horror cliche ever, it’s certainly going to stay with you, even after you leave the theater.

And as you walk home, all alone.

And when you go to the bathroom.

And when you look in the mirror…


Get ready to sit through 100 minutes of every major horror film convention ever – all used to devastating effect. If we had more movies like this, the pants and adult diaper industries will definitely see a rise in sales.


A big big “thank you!” goes out to our friends from Solar-UIP for the special screening of Mama, and a big CONGRATULATIONS to our five FlipGeeks readers who won free invites!  Be sure to Like the official Solar-UIP fanpage on Facebook

Mikael Angelo Francisco