G. Or perhaps, G-Dog. Nah, I think I’ll just go with Mr. G. I’m speaking, of course, of Writer/Director/Producer Guillermo del Toro. I surprise myself for having been lax at effusing as much over Mr. G as I ordinarily do over filmmakers that blow my lobes, but with the release of Mama, his day has come.
Mr. G already has a healthy montage of spine-chillers under his belt that have provided more discerning horror and thriller fans hours of entertainment for years. For many of us, del Toro first made an earthshaking impact on us with 2006′s Pan’s Labyrinth, a surprisingly gory fantasy story. Or was it more of a surprisingly fantastical historical film? Or perhaps, a surprisingly historical thriller? Therein lies the beauty of Mr. G’s storytelling; in many of his films, he brings his viewers on a journey that can’t be neatly tucked into a single category to be lined up, compared to, and forgotten along with the string of other movies that fit the same category. His films tend to linger, to strike a low bass chord that reverberates in our subconscious long after the lights have gone dark and the credits have rolled. Even Cronos was quietly and insidiously disturbing in its inexplicability. And when the lights are out, many of us continue to wonder: what might have oozed into corporality and been left behind to inhabit the darkness with us?
With Mr. G as producer, there could be no doubt the creep-out factor of Mama would be huge. Remember the Orphanage? The Devil’s Backbone? And creepiest of all, *shudder*, Mimic? Unarguably, one of his greatest movie-making talents is incorporating believable and frightening monsters, tangible fairytale characters, and nebulous creatures of both the light and dark that are so realistic in their make-up, prosthetics, and puppetry that they appear to be actual, living beings. Remember Hellboy, and again, Mimic?
So, Mama. The story begins with an unfolding tragedy where, in a complete psychotic break, the father of two girls who are one and three years of age kills his estranged wife and kidnaps the children with the intent to end their lives and his own. Within the first ten minutes, viewers are already hugely sympathetic to these young, adorable girls and want nothing more than that they be safe. If there is one theme consistent with almost every movie Mr. G is involved in, it is that the strongest character will be the child/children. Just something to note.
To minimize spoilers, I’ll simply tell you that the girls’ father takes them to a remote cabin in the woods, where they are rescued by Mama. The plot then moves forward five years where the girls are discovered and brought back into civilization. The dead man’s brother, a cartoonist, and his girlfriend, the bassist for a punk band (win!), are made the legal guardians of these wild, unsocialized, badly damaged children.
What follows is a scare-fest of the kind movie-goers have come to expect in films about ghost hauntings, such as the Grudge or the Ring or Stir of Echoes, with lots of strange noises, creepy camera effects, and things jumping out of the dark at you. Which still works, no matter how many times you see it. However, in true del Toro fashion, the end of the movie jumps far past the obvious conclusion and leaves viewers with both the heebie jeebies and, unfortunately, a gaping inconsistency in the overall premise of the story.
And that, dear readers, is the biggest takeaway. While the storytelling in Mama has much of the elegance and complexity we all enjoy about del Toro’s films, the enjoyment of Mama is consistently derailed by story inconsistencies that are clearly the results of editing room mistakes, and in the final scene, out-of-step writing. I won’t list them here, as they wouldn’t make much sense out of context, but there are enough of them and they’re so obvious that you’ll instantly recognize them when you watch the movie. The final letdown is that Mama relied completely on computer-generated graphics, which, try as they might, never appear real enough to actually get under your skin.
My faith in Mr. G is not shaken however, and I am, much as I’m sure you are, thoroughly pumped for Pacific Rim later this year. We’ve already seen how capably he handles stories that are larger than life, e.g., Hellboy, and giant robots and monsters from another dimension couldn’t be a better playground for del Toro’s brilliant imagination. In the meantime, Mama would make a comfortable night on the couch with the lights out, but don’t expect to have your lobes blown by anything new to the genre.
Bechdel Test: pass.
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All content copyright unless otherwise specified © 2008-2013 by Tammy Salyer, writer. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to use short quotes provided proper attribution is given.