February 1, 2023
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Review: ‘Mama’ struggles to scare with cartoonish gimmicks

Guillermo del Toro certainly isn’t afraid to break horror genre trends. The acclaimed director is the executive producer of the horror film, “Mama.” Like 2010’s “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” which del Toro also produced and co-wrote, “Mama” has unusual ideas and takes some risks. Unfortunately, also like his previous film, the quality is inconsistent.

The movie opens with an intriguing plot line. An unhinged father takes his two young daughters to a cabin in the woods. The audience learns he shot multiple coworkers and killed his wife. Shortly after they arrive in the secluded cabin, he is killed by a creepy, out-of-frame figure. Five years later, the girls are found alive in the woods and brought to live with their uncle and his girlfriend.

Among a cast of unknowns, Jessica Chastain stands out. She plays the girlfriend, Annabel, a punk rock babe not quite ready to be a mother. She seems to be having fun playing the part, and the audience can’t help but connect with her charisma.

The horror in “Mama” relies chiefly on disorienting sounds and hit-or-miss disturbing visuals. When the CGI character Mama is making inhuman groaning noises in the shadows, she can be quite creepy. Unfortunately, when her face is finally revealed toward the end of the film, the crooked scowl is more cartoonish than scary.

There are also some issues with writer-director Andres Muschietti’s script. The characters that don’t make it to the end are so obviously dispensable that he may as well have put giant red CGI X’s above their heads. Still, it’s at least refreshing to see a modern horror movie staying away from the found footage and excess gore of recent releases in the genre.

“Mama” is a mixed bag. The unique concept and excellent sound mixing are held down by some cheesy visual effects and an uneven script. Del Toro may not have produced a masterpiece, but at least he’s helping to bring some freshness to an often-tired genre.

Horror film “Mama” uses hit-or-miss visual effects and sound mixing to scare audiences.