Monday, June 3, 2013

Don't Tell Mama (What CGI You Saw)

Feral kids and messy crayon drawings, amiright?

Quick Plot: A frantic car radio news report informs us that the financial crisis has led an executive (played by Game of Thrones Jaime Lannister, who shall be known as The Kingslayer until further notice) to shoot his wife. The Kingslayer drives home and grabs his two young daughters, Cathy's Curse-style, for a dangerously speedy drive through snowy terrain. An accident leads them on foot to a mysterious cabin in the woods (waaa-oooooo--oo--oooh), where The Kingslayer tearfully plans on shooting his precious little girls in one of those horrific murder/suicide/family slaughter sprees. Before he can fire, a ghostly figure storms in, saving the day.

Oops. Wrong one.
Nailed it.
Flash forward five years to The Kinglsayer's twin brother (we'll call him Jaime and leave it to our fan fiction minds to wonder if these twins are as close as the Kingsguard member and Cersei) has been searching for his missing nieces while living in a cramped apartment with his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica I'm In Everything Chastain), a member of a rock band. We know Annabel is in a rock band because, in addition to her sleeve tattoos and raccoon eyeliner, characters are constantly referring to the fact that she is indeed, and I quote, "in a rock band."

The girls, Victoria and Lilly, are eventually discovered living out a quiet life like Jodie Foster in Nell but with more dirt and less tay in da winds. A psychiatrist with ulterior motives takes charge of their case and places them with Jaime and Annabel in a suburban home. Before you can compare definitions of Insidious to Sinister,  Jaime Lannister is sent to the emergency room while Annabel attempts to fry Spaghettios, bond with two near-feral children, fight off the plot convenience/uptight sister-in-law seeking custody, and defend her new family from a supernatural, supermaternal force the girls affectionately call Mama.

Directed by newcomer Andres Muschietti and produced by genre cinema fairy godfather Guillermo Del Toro, Mama is a good film polluted with some devastating visual choices. The cast is marvelous, from Chastain's sympathetic (at least to me) child-fearing musician (rock band style) to the wonderfully creepy/sweet little actresses cast as the children who should indeed be feared. The nature of the monster has some tragic and genuinely new roots, making the mystery something that's easy to care about.

Then there's the monster itself.

On the Blu Ray extras, one featurette includes an interview with Del Toro describing how they decided on a less-is-more approach with the character of Mama. I'd hate to see the original more-is-more plan.

The concept of Mama is eerily effective: the ghost of a woman suffering post-partem depression in the 19th century trying to make good by adopting a new family? That's great stuff! Having a little girl first describe her appearance with "Daddy, there's a woman outside and she's not touching the floor?" Brilliant! Ultimately showing the ghost as a pixelated J-horror villain who can't move without causing a giant sound cue to menacingly violate us with her presence? Ugh.

Mama is a creepy story. It's got feral children, awkward crayon pictures, things hiding in closets, characters who are virtually blind without easily breakable glasses, quiet-speaking librarians with long braids, and high cliffs with precariously placed branches just waiting to stab jumpers. It's like a perfectly cooked steak that an overanxious chef decided would be improved by adding a bacon-sage-ranch-passionfruit dressing. That's a shame.

High Points
I will never argue with the use of children's crayon drawings to generate creepiness

Low Points
The aforementioned abominable CGI designs aren't the worst put to screen, but the fact that an otherwise atmospheric film relies way too heavily on shoving them in our faces is a tragedy

Lessons Learned
Never trust a moth. When it comes to horror movies, those things never have good intentions

There’s a place for human remains and it’s not on a shelf in a government building

You know it's getting late when the sun is shining brightly through your windows

Mama is a frustrating film. I enjoyed so much about it, which made some of its failings more personal.Still, those who enjoy a good old fashioned ghost story with minor twists will find something of interest here, even if you wish you were occasionally wearing foggy glasses to hide some of what's onscreen. The Blu Ray comes loaded with an impressive batch of special features, including a commentary, the original 3 minute short film, and a making-of documentary that's worth a watch simply to hear a whole lot of grownups say "maMa."


  1. That is a sad story. The original short film was very scary.

  2. I'd love to see a fan edit where someone just reduces all the time the camera spends on Mama. It could GENUINELY be scary!

  3. While I would rather not have anything to do with "bacon-sage-ranch-passionfruit dressing," I am forced to take a defensive stance on blue cheese crumbles on a steak! SO GOOD! Toss a couple onion rings on that mofo, and I'll dance the night away in a joyful bliss!

    I haven't seen *whisper voice* Mama *end whisper voice* yet, though I am looking forward to it and will go into it armed with the knowledge that there be some bad CGI ahead.

    You're not the first person I've heard complain about the CGI, and it's unfortunate that something like that is still an issue with some films these days. I don't understand how no one says: "Uh, this doesn't look so good, guys... maybe we can try something else?"

  4. I ADORE bleu cheese and could eat it atop Rice Krispies, but I am also of the personal mind that a good steak is best served pink and alone. That is just my belief system.

    With Mama, it's a real shame. All someone needed to do was step in with a pair of scissors and cut down on the amount of time we spend staring into the computer eyes of *whisper voice* Mama *end whisper voice* and this could have been something extremely effective.