Let me go on record saying that in my humble opinion, most horror movies rated PG-13 are worthless. That is not the case however, with ‘Mama’. I walked into the theater expecting the following:

1 – Lots of jump-out-at-you-from-the-darkness-with-a-bad-CGI-monster-face-and-then-hear-you-shriek-like-the-little-bitch-you-are kind of stuff. Fleeting scares, but effective nonetheless

2 – Little to no gore but lots of very very dirty children, pleanty of unnatural body bending movments, moths and oozy walls

3  – Not actually seeing ‘Mama’ until the (normally) anti-climactic finale

4 – And as Guillermo del Toro had his hand in this film, a sad but meaningful death to one of the main characters

Well, I stand corrected on a few of these points, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the film as a whole. But before we get into the gory (pun intended) details, lets give you gentle readers a bit of an overview.

The quick and dirty version is that this film is a dark fairy tale gone horribly wrong. Let’s just say The Brothers Grimm would have been fans of this film. The longer version is two little girls are left alone in the wilderness for five years after tragedy befalls their family. After much searching, the girls are found and taken in by their Uncle Luke (played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)  and his not so kid friendly punk rock girlfriend, Annabelle (played by Jessica Chastian). The girls go to live with Luke and Jessica under the condition that kid psychiatrist Dr. Dreyfuss (creepy voice on this guy FYI) can continue to study them to see if they have a shot of having a normal wilderness free life. Things start to get weird and violent when ‘Mama’ gets jealous of the girls new playmates such as spooky dreams, the girls have very odd eating habits, and there’s a light possession towards the end. Also, it could be debated that while at first ‘Mama’ cares for the girls while their alone in the wilderness, but once they’re introduced to a healthy, clean and loving environment, a real mother might take a step back so her children would have a chance at a good life and happiness. Not ‘Mama’, she is just plain selfish and wants the girls all to herself for her own well-being and to lessen the tinge of  loneliness she has (they’re not even her kids!). She needs to take a letting go seminar, that’s all I’m saying.

A few eye rolling moments:

– People going in search of the cabin where the girls were found/living, several times throughout the film; they start in the morning and then all of a sudden its pitch black outside. UGH. Also they know exactly where this place is but stumble around like idiots looking for it. Not a fan.

– The moment where Luke goes to investigate a supposed intruder (Annabelle’s first ‘Mama’ sighting as it turns out) and stares at the wall in the hallway as its starts to ooze and very nonhuman fingers make their way through the hole. He doesn’t shout to Annabelle or tell her “Hey! Our F**cking walls are oozing, come quick!” or make any attempt to get help for himself. You my friend, deserve to be pushed over the railing, just sayin’.

– The Coma Effect – Really?! A coma? I guess that’s the easiest way to make the story all about Annabelle’s relationship with the girls, the back history on their ghost-like mother figure and a bittersweet reunion at the end of the film wrapped-up into one bizarre looking package, but hey, what are you gonna do. I have to say a double eye-roll moment was when Annabelle drives out to the cabin (the anti-climatic face off scene!)  after ‘Mama’ kidnaps (or is it ghostnaps?) them. She  then calls Luke to tell him what’s happening  – literally 3 seconds later Luke jumps out from the bushes (as he too was looking for answers in the wilderness, how convenient) and Annabelle is like ‘OMG how did you know I was out here!?’ and he’s responds ‘I got your call!’ Barf, gag and shame on you filmmaker Andres Muschietti!

– The dreams within dreams – I’m not going to lie, the dream scenes are visually terrifying and I’m not ashamed to say I jumped a few times when she was having them, but once she starts to have dreams within dreams they lose me. Been there, done that.

A few things that really worked:

– The who-is-she-playing-with? Factor – There were several scenes where you’d see one of the little girls playing in their room with (audience members assume) their sister or the family dog. That is until we see a split screen set up where one little girl is playing in their room and the other is down the hall talking to Annabelle. WTF WHO IS IN YOUR ROOM?! Well its ‘Mama’ (duh) but those were pretty awesome set ups. My favorite in particular is when Annabelle goes upstairs to put clothes away in the girls room and sees a small figure in the corner (looks like the youngest is playing under a blanket kind of thing) and she exclaims ‘Oh Lily you scared me!’ and then we shoot to the kitchen where both little girls are making breakfast and shout up to Annabelle ‘Come down, Lily is hungry!’. The figure then gets up to its full form and hides in the closet. Goosebump central.

– The ‘Fatal Frame’ scene – For those of you who also enjoy old school horror survival video games, you’ll like this scene in particular as it reminded me of the classic, ‘Fatal Frame’. Dr. Dreyfuss goes out to the cabin to confront miss ghost mom as he feels he’s discovered her true identity and knows what her unfinished business is. True to the cheap scare factor, none of the lights work (or severely flicker) when ‘Mama’ is around so he has to use his camera when he’s in the darkness trying to confront her. No we don’t really see him die but its insinuated and the lead up is delicious. The camera is flashing all over the place and we just hear it all happening. In my opinion, not seeing the monster, but hearing it, is way scarier.

All in all, I say this flick was pretty good. I didn’t really like that we see ‘Mama’ a ton (again, hearing vs. seeing is way better), and honestly this lady looked pretty messed up even when she was alive so I’m not sure what the deal was there. Her story was sad but predictable and we felt bad for her (kind of, I mean, she does kill a nun with a knitting needle) but in the end, everyone got what they wanted. I’m trying not to give away too much as to what finally puts her to rest  as I think this film is worth seeing, it was kind of a twist ending but again, nothing terribly shocking.

My expectations from the beginning of this piece were met: there were lots of moths and oozy walls, those kids were GROSS during most of the film (but were super adorable before they were left in the wilderness at the beginning, heartstring tug), we do see ‘Mama’ A LOT, that crazy bitch just loves the camera. Surprise surprise Annabelle’s maternal instincts kick in and she (gasp!) learns to love the girls and fights for them. Last but not least, the audience gets a bunch of ‘jump-out-at-you scares and there is a semi-sad/not really sure if this is F**ked up or if this is OK ending, I think we have del Torro to thank for that one. The ‘Mama’ ghost-monster has the reminiscent feel of those in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ but is CGI as opposed to mostly being puppets/real people with make-up on (man I miss puppets…but I digress).

I think its decent enough to go see in theaters but if you want to spare yourself from sitting in a teen-scream arena (get it together tweens! You don’t need to squeal in terror at everything!) then see it on once its been out for awhile or defiantly rent this once its available, you wont be sorry you did!