Horror flick fails, short on wails

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

"Mama" falls short on thrills as it resorts to a formulaic script.

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Why are the kids in horror films always weird? This is a question that struck me while watching “Mama,” a horror film directed by Andres Muschietti. The kids in this film are Victoria and Lilly and they are about as weird as two kids, cut off from human civilization for five years, can be.

Child actors are usually not very good, and the younger they are the poorer you can expect their performances to be. Neil Cross, Andres Muschietti, and Barbara Muschietti got around this by writing very little dialogue for the kids to speak. Much of the film is spent watching the kids quietly stare off into the distance behind the adult actors shoulders.

Speaking of the adult actors, they spend much of their time going through the motions of adults in horror films who don’t, at first, believe the kids about the ghost that stalks them. Jessica Chastain, who plays Annabel, probably does the best of the bunch, but only because she takes up a lot more screen time than the other actors.

We get to see her sleep, play in a band, play bass, read a pregnancy test, and do lots of other stuff. We never really get to see her be scared, though. Yes, there is the obligatory scene wherein Annabel discovers the monster, and, yes, she does scream, but this seems more like going through the motions than anything: checks on a checklist.

The movie is a checklist, and, at any given time, a horror trope is being checked. This is normally not a probably, as tropes are tropes for a reason, but, in Mama, the tropes don’t work because the film has no poignancy.

We never grow to care for these characters, because they are cardboard cutouts from other films. There’s the know-it-all scientist, the standoffish aunt, the good guy uncle, and the put upon loving girlfriend.

The movie has bigger problems than cliche, though. It is plagued by a script that meanders aimlessly and often seems to forget about characters entirely.

That uncle who really wanted to take care of his orphan nieces is left to his own devices off screen for far too long. Later, we check in with him and the movie has to throw out a plot device to make him relevant again. This is not a one-off occurrence; several of the characters are forgotten in this manner.

One audience member called the film “bizarre and different.” Another said, “It was kinda predictable.” I say: “Mama” is worthy of a rental, but not much more.