A few years ago, I came across a short but brilliant Spanish short film called Mama which was basically about nothing but two girls trying to get away from their angry ghost mother. When I heard it was being turned into a feature film, I was concerned about how the hell they would pad out four minutes and was pretty certain it was going to stink.
Much to my pleasant surprise, it’s actually pretty good and approaches the material in an original way. Sure, it give into the temptation of easy CGI throughout the film, but it’s put together and executed in a very interesting way – even if it turns into more of a monster movie and less of a ghost story, it’s still a darn fine monster movie.
In Mama, two little girls, missing for years, are found living wild in an isolated cabin in the woods. While their only surviving relatives, their uncle and his wife, ponder how the two girls survived on their own, they give them a new home and rehabilitate them back into society (with mixed results), but it turns out that something has followed them to their new home, a spirit who cared for the girls while they were on their own, and she is insanely jealous of the girls’ new caregivers.
It’s an interesting story – a story of a ghost who will do anything to be a mother and a mother who seems like she would do anything to not be one. A nature vs. nurture story with a terrifying spin. It’s a good angle to approach the story particularly when it gives insight into why Mama is so devoted to the kids – even the one who doesn’t want them eventually grows to love them even if they are barely domesticated animals.
Mama goes the CGI route and plays its hand rather early as far as the ghost is concerned, but on the other hand, it is a very creepy monster. A misshapened mass of hair and hatred with the body of an anorexic contortionist and the attitude of a dyspeptic puff adder, Mama is a character that is disturbing to look at and so, in that respect, it works. Yeah, I do still believe that your and my own imagination can come up with more disturbing monsters than what I am flatly shown on screen, but if I’m going to be explicitly shown something, I’m glad it was at least scary.
Mama gives me everything I want in a horror/monster movie. Scariness, some dread, and some characters I like that I can root for. The story is emotionally honest and never predictable and the actors do a pretty great job of selling the situation.
Unfortunately, the story falls apart during the third act as Mama goes from being this mysterious and dangerous force of nature to just another character in the lineup, but the movie more than earned its stripes during its run. It may be flawed, but its still effective as a good old fashioned monster movie. Not a ghost story, but a monster movie. Still, it’s a darn good monster movie.