Can we declare a moratorium on stringy-haired ghost women who make freaky noises? They were scary when they started appearing in imported Asian horror films, but the novelty has thoroughly worn off.
By LOEY LOCKERBY
Special to The Star
The makers of “Mama” clearly disagree. They also don’t think we’ve had enough loud noises, screeching musical cues or brick-stupid behavior. And why should we wait a whole year for the plot of “The Woman in Black” to be recycled?
This time, the vengeful ghost lives in modern-day rural Virginia, where she encounters two little girls whose father has just killed their mother and is planning to kill them. After dispatching Daddy, she keeps the girls alive for five years, until they’re discovered by investigators hired by their uncle, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).
The oldest girl (Megan Charpentier) remembers her old life and gradually warms up to Lucas and his rocker girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain). The youngest (Isabelle Nélisse) is completely feral and much prefers the company of her spectral guardian. And “Mama” doesn’t like to share her babies.
Director Andrés Muschietti is expanding a three-minute short film he made in 2008, and you can see why Guillermo del Toro (who makes great horror flicks like “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Devil’s Backbone”) decided to produce the feature version.
“Mama” is full of creepy set pieces, like the desolate cabin in which the girls take up residence, and a great shot involving an open bedroom door, a hallway and an unseen playmate. Muschietti loves his shadows, and when he keeps the action there, he creates some real scares.
His inexperience shows when he starts trying too hard, imitating what he has seen so many other genre directors do. After the ghost’s umpteenth appearance, she becomes more funny than terrifying, and Muschietti’s attempt to provide her with a sympathetic backstory is too half-hearted to have any effect.
Similar scenes are repeated over and over, and the talented actors (including both children) are forced to act dumber in response to each “new” development. Even Oscar nominee Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”) can’t save her character. It’s frustrating for a viewer to be 10 steps ahead of the characters. That’s why people yell at the screen during horror movies.
Muschietti might have better luck with different material someday, especially if he takes directing lessons from del Toro. “Mama” just feels too much like what it really is — three minutes of story stuffed with 97 minutes of recycled filler.