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[Review] Scary and Original ‘Mama’ Destroyed By Lame CGI and Poor Characters

In a time where filmgoers are screaming for originality, Guillermo del Toro comes through with his latest production, Mama, directed by Andrés Muschietti. It’s a horror film loaded with great ideas and multiple scares, but it’s deflated by horrendous CGI and ridiculous exposition.

Mama opens with a disjointed voice over explaining that a man (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has gone crazy during the financial crisis. He returns home, murders his wife and then takes his two little girls to a remote cabin in the woods where, before he can shoot his daughter in the back of the head, a creature blasts out of the darkness and whisks him away. Five years later, this man’s brother, Jeffrey (also played by Coster-Waldau), has been paying two rednecks to try and find his missing family. They stumble onto the cabin where they find that the two girls have been surviving off cherries for all of those years. The first act is truly disturbing, focusing on these scary “feral” children whom crawl around all creature-like. Things take a second act turn when it’s revealed that they were actually raised by someone they call “Mama”.

When Mama is focusing on the little girls, it’s quite chilling. But when everything shifts to their doctor and Jeffrey’s girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain), it becomes bloated with exposition and unnecessary plot devices. Not to say that these elements couldn’t be compelling, they just suffer in the direction that Muschietti takes them. He’s so intent on wrapping everything up so perfectly that the proceedings become convoluted and straight up boring. Instead of propelling through scary scenes and ghostly pursuits, the audience is sung to sleep by investigations and unnecessary conflict (such as the girls’ aunt who wants custody).

It’s inexplicable why there’s so much CGI in a film where there are some insanely disturbing uses of practice effects (similar to The Ring). The effects work literally kills Mama, preventing her from being truly terrifying in a clear cut case of “too much’. We see Mama way too much, there are too many effects shots in general, and for whatever reason Muschietti felt the need to have Mama performing acrobatics like bending backwards off walls and twisting into inordinate shapes. Some of the most haunting and jump out of your seat scary moments are subtle and quick, not long winded and showy.

And not taking anything away from Chastain, but her character is written and wardrobed into shambles. She’s typecast as a poor musician with a horrible wig and an attitude. Her character is so off-putting that it sinks the film’s believability into the abyss (even before the overuse of effects can do so).

The most disappointing aspect of Mama is that the original idea is fantastic, and some of the scares are out of this world effective. But ultimately poor writing, editorial and effects decisions transform it into a long winded, almost faux horror movie. It’s sad because most people won’t even notice they missed out on a better version of this admittedly cool concept. Even worse, Mama is a film I can actually recommend on some level, knowing that a hardcore horror fan could actually garner some enjoyment out of it once they concede to the the fact that it’s an utter mess.



  • doomas10

    I will definitely see this. The review does make some nice points but I guess I have to see it for myself. At least for the effective jump scares. The trailer looks great too!

  • Jasonicus

    I had a feeling there would be too much CGI and that really annoys me. CGI in horror, especially used to this extent, never works. Shame.

  • Kwonkicker

    Just got back from seeing it. My only complaint is the ending; pretty unsatisfactory. Other than that I can agree on the CGI bits, especially towards the ending. But it is still a pretty cool and creepy flick, definitely check it out!!

  • Scorpionsy

    I saw the movie on release date. I enjoyed it but it did have it’s flaws. I give it a 7/10. It was creepy in a good way…the way it should have been…and had some genuine scares and jump scares. The story was a bit lacking…in that some of the main characters get pushed aside in the 3rd or final act…like the uncle (when in the woods). I agree that the movie had too much CGI for its own good…cheapening the other good CGI quickshots. Mama herself was shown way too much in the final act..that it ruined the scary-factor about seeing her. The Camera snapshot scenes and the closet scenes were the most effective scares of the movie, IMHO..because they were quick and short.

    Mama, herself looks, except for her face, like a rip off of the Tooth Fairy from “Darkness Falls”…in fact several scenes of the movie reminded me of “Darkness Falls”. Remember the scene at the beginning of the “Darkness Falls” intro where you can see the Tooth Fairy floating in the shadows right out of range of the light from the bathroom where the kid was hiding in the tub? Yep, there are scenes like that in “Mama”. Some scenes reminded me of “The Grudge” (the japanese version) like the ghost’s floating frizzed out hair..and the ghost appearing from just the Hair…or from a rotting blot on a wall. “Mama” definitely borrowed ideas from both those movies and their monsters…like the moaning / click sounds of Mama…which is like a hybrid rip-off of the Tooth Fairy and the Grudge ghost.

    The ending was a bit of a let-down for me…but it sort of gave closure to the story.

    Also, this movie being similar in style to the above 2 movies i mentioned…and maybe “The lady in black” in terms of dark creepiness also was better executed overall than that piece of junk that was “The Possession” (watch “Paranormal Witness” episode in Season 2 called “The Dybbuk Box” for the true and scarier story and even scarier episode as it was shot)and crappier “The Apparition” (who’s poster basically gave away the movie’s ending…so retarded…and also had the “Dark Water”-inspired black-moldy blot on the wall).

    Del Torro was fascinated by the original “Mama” short movie this was expanded on…and his DNA is all over this movie…which also had some similarities to another movie he introduced, “The Orphanage”.

    Jessican Chastain, who looks unrecognizable as a Punk rocker here from her looks in “Zero Dark Thirty” played a good role. My problem was that it looked like she was playing 2 different roles…as her personality changes from a self-absorbed (mostly) rocker who really does not like the idea of kids…to later on this caring mother-like person. Two completely different personalities…but i don’t blame her..this is from the writing and script. I liked her more as the edgier don’t-give-a-crap personality from the beginning of the movie.

    Any why must there always be in these kind of horror movies the typical Psychiatrist who does not believe what is being said then starts discovering stuff….its always a psychiatrist or priest/rabbi in these movie. So unoriginal!

    “Mama” is a good pop-corn flick, not the best, but it had it’s heart in the right place and could have ended much scarier and better with a refined script and less Mama CGI. It is for sure better that a lot of similar style movies we have recently been given. Just enjoy it with a date…or if you go in without really high expectations.

  • AndrewSoukup24

    Seen it yesterday and I agree completely with this whole review…the movie had some great parts but the last 20 min and the ending was awful.

  • feck

    Just saw it. I liked it, overall. I love “horror” movies but my issue is that 90% of them suck, so when one is “pretty good” then I am pleased. And Mama was pretty good. All the CGI didn’t really bug me, and the ending was okay, not awful. There were some very effective jump scares, and I rarely if ever “jump.” The Mama character was similar in spirit to the “Woman in Black” (an extremely underrated movie that I loved) in that both women are looking for their children and will let nothing get in their way. Both good PG-13 flicks.

  • sweetooth

    Just thought I’d point out, most of what everyone is bitching about being “terrible CGI” was actually a real actor on set in makeup.

    Personally, if I can’t decide if an effect is CG or Practical, or if I mistake a practical effect for CG, then I’d say that’s when visuals are at their absolute best (another good example would be Prometheus, couldn’t believe how much was actually practical).

    Ironically, most of the “quick shots” of Mama that the review seemed to think were better were likely the CG ones, not the extended shots near the end.

  • MachetAY

    I liked this movie a lot. Great scares and really creepy. It has a Woman in Black vibe to it but I think the story is better. I also think that this is how creepy kids should be done. So much better than kids in county fair make up.

    My only problem with this movie is showing Mama a little to much at the end. She loses some of her erie-ness that way.

    For the life of me I will never get BD. Nvermind that there’s an article a day about Warm friggin Bodies, Mr. D says TCM3D is fun but then picks apart this movie. C’mon…

  • sweetooth

    If Del Toro’s involved I always expect seeing the monsters/creatures a lot. I think looking through the guys filmography as both a director and a producer it’s pretty obvious the guy loves monsters. Since I love monsters too, I personally dig that his movies have tons of creature action.

    Frankly I’d way rather watch something like this where you actually see the creature and it has, y’know, production values and what not than boring shit like Paranormal Activity.

    Personally I thought Mama’s design was totally awesome, so I’m glad you get to see her a lot at the end.

  • horrorking95

    I really liked Mama, but that thing you said at the start about having a disjointed voice-over explaining a man has murdered his wife etc. Wasn’t in the screening I saw! It just opened with a man panicking telling his children to leave and everything! Maybe the UK version is different :S


    typical del toro movie. don’t expect anything new. not a bad watch though. and to get the achieve the creepiness of “mama” in physical form, the effects made sense here. and the cgi wasn’t that bad; it was distorted for a reason. I like practical just as much as the next person but you guys bitch a little too much about cgi sometimes. the thing? evil dead? no. but mama? yeah it’s pretty much a given…after all it’s a ghost story

  • Well, I always see stuff way after the fact, so I just watched this last night. I liked it, but I do agree that we did see way too much of “Mama” early on. There was some creepy ass shit in this movie, though, and several times I caught myself saying “Whoa” out loud.

    I thought the disjointed acrobatics played well with the idea that every bone was shattered hitting the branch on the way down. I thought the girls were amazing, and some of creepiest imagery I will never get out of my head is that of a feral child crawling down a dimly lit hallway. Two things that I still don’t get, though: Moths, and the ending. Why? If someone can explain that crap to me, I’d appreciate it.

  • Lost Highway

    Seems like the practical effects in Mama were too convincing as the film keeps getting blasted for its CGI. Mama herself was played by Javier Botet, the extremely thin stunt actor who also played the skeletal creature in the REC films. The only CGI aspect of the creature was the hair.

    • Reupié

      Man I got to tell you you’re just wrong there, the hair isn’t the only part that’s CGI, the face is too, and that’s a problem. Because it’s so blatant it immediately disconnects you from the movie. The CGI are fucking TERRIBLE in this movie. At some parts Mama’s whole body is fully CGI. This is just sad.

      • No, it’s (usually) just the hair. There are numerous shots and even footage of Javier Botet in the makeup chair with the full Mama face prosphetics. Hell, the movie even won awards for it’s makeup effects.

        There are a couple of instances where Mama is purely CGI but 90% of the time it’s just her hair. I think the way Mama was composited into scenes with an ethereal filter is why so many people think she is fully CGI.

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