Two different characters in "Mama" stumble through the dark, middle-of-nowhere woods at night in search of an abandoned cabin that holds God-knows-what kind of horrors. Both characters, pulling the old "I'm so manly I'll just illogically do this by myself" routine, already have evidence that something spookily unordinary is going on, but go tramping through the woods anyway.
Oh, and neither of them bothers to tell anyone where they're going, either, which leads me to believe they didn't learn a damn thing from "127 Hours."
But I'm presenting the kind of logic that must be thrown out the window if you're going to have any chance of enjoying writer/director Andrés Muschietti's "Mama," a film that's made competently enough to earn a few cheap scares and one great scare.
It generally helps to throw logic out the window when watching horror films anyway, but I believe it's more important here, if only to prevent viewers from standing, clumps of hair in their hands, and shouting rhetorical questions at the screen.
Almost every decision characters make in the film fails the test of logic. I imagine if we were able to ask the characters to explain their bizarre actions, they would probably all just shrug (maybe blush a little) and say it "made sense at the time."
Despite all of the logical issues, I enjoyed "Mama," thanks in large part to Antonio Riestra's moody photography and composer Fernando Velázquez's fantastic score. I will note that Riestra's look is too dark at times (even for a horror film), but he makes great use of shading and subtle camera movement.
Velázquez, who also composed an effective score for "The Impossible" (also in theaters), hits all the right notes with music that reminded me simultaneously of an early John Carpenter mixed with Bernard Herrmann. I especially like the way he uses loud, drastic "jump!" cues but doesn't match them up perfectly with the action. Those brief moments between action and cue are just enough to keep you on your toes.
Muschietti also gets good performances out of his cast, even if they don't have a clue why their characters make the decisions they make.
Jessica Chastain stars as Annabel, a nice punk rocker who finds herself thrust into a maternal role when her boyfriend Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) finds his young nieces five years after they went missing. The new "parents" are assisted by Dr. Dreyfus (Daniel Kash), a psychiatrist who definitely didn't learn his "outside the box" methods at medical school.
All three cast members play their roles subtly, choosing small touches instead of the typical over-the-top horror movie clichés. Logic still seems to fail them -- they're just written that way -- but I must admit to caring more about these characters than I usually do at horror movies.
I'm honestly not sure whether I can call "Mama" a good film, but it is spooky and contains enough scares to please horror fans. Well, as long as they're not wondering why the men keep wandering into the wilderness by themselves at night.
"Mama" is rated PG-13 for violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements.
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