I’ll admit, Mama isn’t exactly the greatest horror movie out there, but I’m a die-hard del Toro fan through and through. So any project he works on usually captures my interest. Mama was written and directed by Andy Muschietti with Guillermo del Toro serving as the executive producer. The original concept for the movie started as a short horror film written and directed by Andy Muschietti along with his sister Barbra. It caught Guillermo’s attention and excited him so much that he wanted to produce it.
Mama released in 2013 with del Toro’s name plastered across it in the advertisements. I’m sure this did wonders for the film’s popularity. It’s sad that it wasn’t received quite as well as it should have been. I can see now why that is. For a good long while, I was charmed by the movie, blind to anything one could possibly say bad about it. Watching it this last after having not seen it for a year or two I’ve picked up on some of the issues.
Unfortunately, the movie did not age well. The CGI for the Mama character did not hold up through these short 5 years. Once, the movie had me terrified whenever we saw Mama come on screen. Her rotting hair, disfigured face, and inhuman like legs and arms made her a walking nightmare. Watching it again, she looked faker than she had before. It’s a shame; there shouldn’t be any reason for that considering the actor they cast for Mama, Javier Botet, is known for his inhuman like appendages. The actor even without makeup or CGI genuinely looks terrifying just in a simple costume. The way he can move and how he is able to manipulate his joints is something I wanted the movie to use more rather than relying on CGI.
The video above shows Mama’s character being plenty terrifying and all Javier is wearing is just a dress and a wig. I wanted them to utilize this far more than seeing what they could do with CGI. It’s a great disappointment and one of the reasons why the movie isn’t at it’s best.
It has a lot going for it. The story is unique. Two toddlers are abandoned in the woods after their father tries to kill them. They are adopted by the spirit of a woman who died a century prior to meeting them. So we have this horrifying looking spirit taking on this motherly compassion for two human girls. So strong is her desire to be a mother that it transcends death itself. While the girls are not in the most ideal conditions to be raised in, Mama is able to keep them safe and alive. She feeds them, sings to them, protects them, and makes toys and flower crowns for them. When was the last time you saw a ghost play such an interactive part in a story like that?
Some ghosts will be more active in their roles by trying to lead the main characters to safety or to garner a better understanding of what happened to them, but this is more than that. Mama wasn’t the antagonist like the movie set her up to be. She meant no ill will towards the two little girls, not even during the movie’s climax when she is shown to be the big threat. Because they had set Mama’s character up this way in the beginning, the ending isn’t as stressful as we watch Mama try to take her two little girls with her to the afterlife. They are her children are they not? She raised them, loved them. While she is an echo of death, she still harbored all of the right emotions that any mother would have when her children are taken away from her. So much so that as a viewer I understood and looked at the final scene of the movie with compassion, not fear.
In the end, Mama keeps one of her little girls while the other chose to stay with her living foster parents. In that alone, we are still able to see Mama, not as the antagonist, but as a mother who understands. Like what every mother has to do eventually, she lets her daughter go, keeping the one that still needs her.
Mama and the youngest of the sisters fall from a cliff and we see this tender moment happen between the two. The little girl giggles and touches Mama’s face while Mama coos with a song like sound in her voice. There’s genuine love between them. This little girl loves her mother despite her mother being a monstrous ghost. They don’t die, but rather their bodies burst into hundreds of moths that flutter away into the night, ending the movie in a beautiful way. Mama took her daughter to the afterlife, yes, but there was no suffering or even a clear depiction of death, just beauty in the end.
That’s what makes this movie so charming. It’s unique. It’s beautiful. It did something new and even if some parts could have been done better, the bare bones of this film are solid. It will continue to be among my favorites because I find it so wonderfully enchanting.