I have been eschewing horror films for quite a long time, not my cup of tea to be constantly under the fusillade of twisted images of supernormal creatures and the menacing sound effects antedated by portentous background scores, while trying to squeeze any sort of excitement and satisfaction from it (or just a natural aging process). But MAMA, outsmarts a myriad of its sort by casting Jessica Chastain as its sadistic prey, so when I got the BluRay disc, it is not easy to say no to it, not when Chastain wears a Gothic makeup.
THE ORPHANAGE (2007, 8/10), which also has a Spanish pedigree, has left an indelible impression on my memory and its credo of a mother's salvation can be easily transplanted into MAMA, only this time the mother is a gawky ghost, thus, Chastain's character, initially a childless bass player in a rock band, has to undergone the transference of her own mother nature to fight for the girls, it is a tug-of-war of two mothers (Coster-Waldau's proxy-father figure as one can anticipate, would have to sidestep aside to leave enough space for the maternal battle, he would be in the hospital since the half-way through and never returns home to aid his girlfriend even when he recovers and completely senses the spooky thing is happening with the two girls, instead, he would go directly to the haunted cabana, at least give your girlfriend a head's up, man!). It is sufficient to say there are nothing too ground-breaking MAMA brings to its mother genre, the scares and twists are both predictable and fully-informed ahead, and a certain amount of casualty among supporting players is indispensable (and overused).
What's quite impressive is the ingenious shooting prowess from Muschietti and DP Antonio Riestra, for example, during Coster-Waldau's hospital stint, a semi-long shot at their home, in a fixed gaze, implies Mama's existence in the house by disinterestedly concocting all 3 extant characters in one frame while a fourth one is off-camera and does the interaction. Another one comes within the spine-tingling motion, a tracking close-up focus on the elder girl until she is locked outside the door when Mama is trailing both girls. Also the sepia and over-saturated flash-back takes are smartly interpolated, and the shots from a camera in the darkness is not a new invention but pay their dues by the in-the-blink-of-an-eye fright (poor doctor!).
Chastain shoulders on a very understated development from a punk bassist to a surrogate mother, Muschietti has a good sense of reining the holistic haunting aura instead let it slip into a drama competition (although if one has Chastain, he should not squander the opportunity). Megan Charpentier, plays the elder sister of the two, whose transition is the most telling proof of a mother's love, the ending is redolent of THE FORGOTTEN (2004, 5/10), and the motherly clasp always win!
MAMA, expanded from Muschietti's own short film, is a qualified scare-fest, but one advise should be alarmed to all the makers, whatever gristly creature you are contriving, if it appears continuously on screen for more than 5 minutes, the terror efficacy will be dampened no matter how unsightly it is, so play your trumps parsimoniously is a wiser option if your intention is to scare audiences out of their wits.