Written by Neil Cross, Andrés Muschietti, & Barbara Muschietti
Directed by Andrés Muschietti
Produced by Guillermo del Toro
Five years after the disappearance of young Victoria and Lily Desange, the persistence of their uncle Lucas pays off. The girls are found alive, living in a cabin in the wilderness. After so long without human contact, they have reverted to an almost feral state. Filthy, frightened and animalistic, they are remanded into the custody of Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel, so long as the girls remain in the care of psychologist Dr. Dreyfuss.
How do two children survive alone in the woods for half a decade? They don't. They had been adopted by a ghostly woman known as Mama, and although they are back in the hands of their real family, Mama doesn't want to give them up so easily.
Before this film came out, it already had its fair share of supporters and detractors. It was only rated PG-13, so it wasn't going to be a balls-to-the-wall frightfest, but it did have a certain pedigree with Guillermo del Toro's name attached. Still, PG-13 ghost stories can be occasionally effective (i.e., Poltergeist), and del Toro can be occasionally ineffective (i.e., Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, which I actually enjoyed more than a lot of people did), even though his work is visually striking. So what is the final verdict?
I found it to be a pretty damn solid ghost story, even if it doesn't bring much of anything new to the table. Its strength is owed mostly to the creepy performances of young stars Megan Charpentier (Victoria) and Isabelle Nélisse (Lily). Whereas Victoria was old enough to remember her former life, and thus was able to regain some civility, Lily had nothing but wilderness in her memory, and retained her animal nature throughout. Seeing her prowl around on all fours with the speed of a wildcat, eating moths and hair and whatever gets too close to her mouth, was unnerving to say the least.
Mama herself was spooky, too...when she remained mostly offstage, offering up only glimmers and glances. But her spook quotient took a real downturn when she took center stage as a heavily-rendered CGI creation, broken and mangled with her hair fanning out around her like a Japanese ghost girl in zero gravity. She may have been good for a quick jump scare, but the only long lasting impression she offered was one of disappointment. This desire to show us too much of the monster is the weakest aspect of the film. Mama the movie looks fantastic, even though Mama the character leaves something to be desired.
Final verdict: Definitely watchable and easily palatable. I just hope you don't mind the haunting being done by what basically amounts to a silly cartoon.
Special thanks to Universal for the screener!
"Victoria! Come! Mama!"