Mama (2013)

Mama (2013)

Horror. The genre has the potential for producing the most memorable films you’ll ever see. The ones you can’t escape, not even in your dreams; they haunt you and pursue you. For me, it was all about Ghostbusters II when I was a little Phage. That film spooked me something wicked. Every night I’d see Vigor, the scourge of Carpathia, warping his way out of a wall and walking downstairs to get me. That was terror. Since then, I’d say I’d been spooked by the finale of The Ring when I was in my mid-teens and by the closing sequence of Rec, which was intense to say the least. But everything else? Meh. Nothing terrifying has come my way. A horror doesn’t have to be terrifying, but if it chooses not to go that route, it best opt to have one hell of a story. Luckily, Mama delivers in this department.

Mama (2013)

Mama comes with the name of Guillermo del Toro flanking it on every piece of press and publicity. However, it’s important to note that he’s merely an executive producer. Nothing wrong with that, but all too often these types of producers have little-to-no impact on what you’re seeing on screen. But all that being said, don’t let this dissuade you off the film. The premise of the film is quite simple: two young girls, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) are kidnapped by their homicidal father and taken to a cabin in the woods, where he plans to finish his series of executions. However, something’s lurking in that cabin. Something paranormal. And this paranormal entity doesn’t like homicidal fathers. So once he’s taken care of, the spirit chooses to take care of the girls as its own, as their Mama. So when the girls are found living wild like savages, they’re taken back into the real world. But Mama likes to keep an eye on her girls… even when they’re housed with their Uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain).

Mama (2013)

Essentially, Mama struck me as a cross between Paranormal Activity, Poltergeist and something akin to The Ring / Dark Water, all with a very “outworldy”, del Toro-esque layer of makeup. Now, this sentence may have put you off entirely, but that’s just the vibe of the film. What lies within is arguably far better than I’ve made it sound. I use these films as reference points owing to the fact the film focuses on children and their interaction with an ethereal being. It definitely has that sense of innocence about it where children will happily befriend a demon… something they always seem to do in these movies. Funnily enough, I actually befriended Vigor in my dreams eventually. I went for a swim in the pink ooze and all was well. I cured myself of those nightmares forever, but that was thanks to some lucid dreaming techniques that I picked up and less to do with me wanting to be best mates with a ghoul.

So far, so good. But what really held my attention here was the story, and not the scares. Horror movies nowadays are horribly shallow affairs filled with LOUD NOISES and jarring camera angles. This isn’t horror to me. Whilst Mama has some effective scares and some memorable frights, I was just intrigued as to how the film was going to conclude. All too often, you know exactly how a horror will end. Either the killer is demasked and killed, someone will wander away into the distance for the sequel, or the demon lives on. Tick box 1, 2 or 3 right there. Mama is different because I couldn’t predict how it was going to end. And when the climax appeared to be going in the stale “oh, what a cop out” direction, it takes a left turn and catches you off-guard. I like this! Keep me off-guard, please!

Mama (2013)

Typically, the actors in a horror movie rarely merit a discussion. They’re dispensable and are merely bodies for the bashing and slaughtering. Whilst I’m not going to praise the actors here for being a revelation in how to act in a horror movie, it’s all admirably done. Jessica Chastain sports a rocking new punky look, which suits the tone of the movie, and sells you her despair and pain. Similarly, the young actresses playing Victoria and Lilly do their best “creepy child” routines. But yet again… they’re no Pierce Gagnon.  Speaking of which, why is his only upcoming movie Rio 2? Put him in more live action movies!

Ultimately, Mama delivers where so many recent horror movies have failed; it gives you a compelling plot. Whilst I didn’t fall asleep terrified by the underside of my bed or the agape cupboard in the corner, the film did its job. The visual scares are here and the film doesn’t rely on cheap, loud noise scare tactics to get you to jump. This automatically makes me like it a lot more. And if you’ve glanced down and seen the score we’ve given it and are wondering how we can classify it as that…. well, we’ve been constantly disappointed by horrors over the past year or so and this was a refreshing change of pace. No, it doesn’t reinvent the genre or flaunt any conventions, but it delivers a hugely enjoyable ride thanks in no small part to an intriguing plot.

So will Mama give youngsters nightmares, like Ghostbusters II gave me nightmares? Well, I think it could do! Sure, this chick isn’t Vigor, the scourge of Carpathia – she can’t walk out of paintings (Vigor beat Samara to that coming out of an image trick), she doesn’t turn New York into a city of pink slime, and nor can she make a toaster dance with the aforementioned slime – but she does look quite horrendous. So that’ll do the job. Therefore, if you too want to give your kid recurring nightmares in order to teach them how to lucid dream (a neat trick to pick up), then invite Mama into your home… she’ll take care of it for you.

Phage Factor:

4 Star

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Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

With the Oscars’ nominations comes the slew of “hot” films from the US. I say “hot” films… they’re pretty luke warm once they get here, considering they’ve been out across the Atlantic for a good few weeks or months. And with those accolades comes a hell of a lot of pressure, as you’re almost pre-conditioned to expect the film you’re about to see to be at the top of its game. For some, it can also alter their opinions: for better, or for worse. On one hand you may be so psyched for the film that it’s not going to live up to its hype, but on the other hand your opinion could be favourably improved as you sit there thinking “well, everyone else loves this… Perhaps I do too?” I can tell you that The Phage is as swayed by these opinions as an oak tree is. We like to make up our own opinions… so let’s begin the season to be jolly glamorous daaarling with Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

This is a film that can’t have escaped your attention owing to the fact that it also made international news headlines thanks to its touchy content: torture and the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Yes, this is that film. Behind the camera we have Kathryn Bigalow – the Academy Award winning director that brought you The Hurt Locker – another current affairs / war based epic. I still think Point Break‘s her best outing to date, but who doesn’t love a bit of surfer Keanu Reeves dude? Bodacious. Gnarly. Rad.

But back on track and onto the plot (if you hadn’t guessed it already). Zero Dark Thirty follows the posting of CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) to the Middle East as she attempts to track down the leading Al-Qaeda generals that were on the loose following the events of September 11th 2001. And who’s the big target? Osama Bin Laden, of course. I can’t spoil the plot as every man and his dog knows the outcome of this particular hunt for America’s previous “Most Wanted”, but not many people appreciate how much intelligence work went into the man hunt. The film swears its telling the true accounts of people that were there over the decade-long hunt for Bin Laden – the US government disagrees with this statement somewhat, so I guess it’s up to you to make up your own minds.

Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

Zero Dark Thirty is a very dry movie – it’s heavy on emotion, heavy on drama and heavy on suspense, despite the fact that you know the outcome from the outset. The torture scenes are indeed barbaric and retreading all of the terrorist events, from the attack on New York in 2001 to the July 7th bombings in London and everything in between and since, has been covered. For some it’ll re-open wounds that are best left to heal. Some may argue that this film is “too soon”, just as The Hurt Locker was “too soon” after the US-Iraq War. I’ve got to hand it to Kathryn Bigalow; she’s a gutsy woman to tackle all of this. But what concerns me is that she’s followed up a “true to life” war drama with… a “true to life” war drama. I really worry about her becoming set in a rut here if she continues this. If 2014 brings Point Break 2: Bodacious Waves then maybe she won’t succumb to being tarred with that brush.

Aside from the content of the film, much has also been made of Jessica Chastain‘s performance here. I’m very relieved to say that she is utterly compelling as Maya. You see her development from a somewhat shocked rookie through to hardened and determined agent. She runs every emotion over the film’s lengthy 157 minute runtime and really sells you every single one. I’m convinced she’s a shoe-in for an Award in the upcoming season. Sure, I really liked Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, but it can’t compare to this, can it? A lot of credit has to go to the entire supporting cast too, especially Jason Clarke‘s Dan, but this is really Chastain‘s vehicle, with many other characters simply being “there”.

Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

Whilst I admired how gritty and real Bigalow has kept Zero Dark Thirty (I don’t think I’ve ever heard a machine gun sound so offensively realistic in a cinema. Absolutely sublime editing and effects), it still had its problems for me. I just found myself getting distracted as the film progressed. Some of the sections just felt very long-winded and drawn out, as I waited for the pace to once again pick up and become engaging. Sure, Chastain held every scene admirably, but I wanted more. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting a war movie here. This isn’t meant to be Full Metal Jacket and I get that, but I still wanted something else.

Overall, I’m in agreement that Zero Dark Thirty deserves the praise that’s being lauded on it: it’s visceral, suspenseful and supremely acted out by Jessica Chastain. But it just failed to hit those really high notes for me. I definitely can’t brand it a classic, as I can’t see myself wanting to re-watch it again, which for me is the hallmark of a truly fantastic movie. But it is another solid film for Kathryn Bigalow. I just hope that she diversifies her subject matter in future endeavours.

So despite the hype, I fail to see why Zero Dark Thirty should stand head and shoulders above the other nominations that I’ve seen so far. Although we remain highly impartial until we’ve seen the film ourselves, we can’t help but feel a little let down that it isn’t the stone-cold classic we were anticipating. Having said that, if someone wants to start hyping up Point Break 2 then I’m totally on board that hype train. Full steam ahead dude!!

Phage Factor:

4 Star