Mama began life in 2008 as a three -minute short, but in expansion to feature-length it has been a victim of mutation. Andres Muschietti has put his film on the rack and painfully stretched it until, weirdly, it has ended up as nothing at all – not scary, not sad, not clever…dragged out from what was ostensibly a clip.
And it shows.
The Mum-off between the mutated tree-woman (an estranged cousin of Pocahontas’ more benevolent Old Mother Willow; why she appears to
be half-tree is never actually explained.) and Jessica Chastain is developed without subtlety, and nowhere is the failure clearer than when the smaller
of the two insipid girls is taken by the woman, and you just don’t care.
Which you probably should, about the untimely death of an 8-year-old.
The film breaks the fundamental rule of horror by revealing its fear-figure within the first two seconds. And it’s like the moment when you realise Jeepers Creepers is a giant gorilla with wings, or that the girl from The Ring is just a slightly damp child in need of a haircut. But here it happens so early on in the film that you have yet to associate any fear with her. So there she is, for
the rest of the film, present without eliciting any response at all, other than confusion as to why her face has been CGI-ed to resemble a self-portrait of the sort found on class tea-towels from primary school. A face only a
Mama could love.
And it’s just. So. Bad. Like the love child of Helena Bonham-Carter and one of the aliens from Signs. In a dress. And not in a scary way. In the sort of anti-climactic way which, instead of compounding an already paralysing sensation of fear, totally obliterates any notion of horror or even interest you might be experiencing.
The Woman in Black is the winner of this game of hide-and-reveal: fleeting glimpses and fragments, creepy handprints and unidentifiable noises right up until you’re too scared lift a finger, let alone turn it off or leave the room. A really good fear-figure has to lurk in the shadows, appearing only when you’ve
already slapped your disproportionately sweaty palms to your increasingly contorted face more times than is appropriate for your age-range.
The key is the mask: Jigsaw has his puppet, and his lackies in hogheads, Mr Texas Chainsaw has his skin-mask, there’s the bag-on-headchild of El Orfanato (another of del Toro’s ‘production’ collaborations), so why couldn’t this one stick to the tried and tested fear gear?
The lack of suspense caused by a premature reveal denies the audience any real climax: leaving it frustratingly unsatisfied, not only by the promise of del Toro’s touch, which is absent throughout the film, but also by an emotionally impotent final scene, and a very real sense of wasted hours.