‘Mama’ brings chills and thrills

By Beth Schumacher

Over the last couple of years, movies of the horror genre have been failing at doing their job: scaring the audience.

The latest Guillermo del Toro film, “Mama,” was released in theaters Friday.

I’m happy to report, the Paranormal Activity series aside, that I haven’t felt so uneasy in a movie theater in quite some time.

The film wastes no time with the first scene, where a man kills his wife and abducts his two young daughters. After crashing his car, he takes the girls to an apparent abandoned cabin in the woods.

There, his attempt to shoot his oldest daughter is abruptly stopped; thus begins the care of the now-orphaned children by a dark, shadowy creature known as Mama.

The movie fast-forwards five years after the initial incident. The search party sent by the uncle find the girls, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse), in the cabin, now animalike from lack of human interaction. Their Uncle Luke (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) take custody of the girls.

After that, the questions of who Mama is starts to flow.

Uncle Luke and Annibel don’t have far to go for answers because Mama sees the need to continue her maternal responsibilities and finds her way into the girls’ new home. This causes quite the struggle between her and Annabel.

I agree with Huffington Post writer Todd McCarthy when he said, “…this Canadian-Spanish co-production from Universal is refreshingly mindful of the less-is-more horror guidelines employed by 1940s master Val Lewton, not to mention Japanese ghost stories.”

I definitely got a “The Ring Two” vibe from this film because of the flashbacks to Mama’s life, history and the reasoning behind why she’s the way she is and what happened to her.

The obvious ties to Van Lewton’s style of horror film are something you don’t see in current movie directing. I’m glad del Toro took that approach, whether he realized the connection or not.

It was refreshing that no children were possessed in the film, there was actually a storyline with substance, and it wasn’t all about blood and guts.

Another plus was that I didn’t need a musical cue to get the creeps. I won’t lie, there were a few scenes that made me laugh, but I think those were purposely added in to allow viewers a break from the scary.

The only issue I had with this movie was the dragging out of the last thirty minutes as well as the bizarre ending. There’s a scene involving Annabel’s fight for the girls; during it, all I could think about was the Black Knight scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” It was uncomfortably drawn-out. The ending leaves open the possibility for a “Mama 2.”

Hopefully, this is a turning point for scary movies. I look forward to the next batch of thriller films.