After producing the deliciously terrifying The Orphanage and directing the superb horror fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth, you would bet your house on Guillermo del Toro nailing what is essentially a stripped down, monster-in-the-house horror movie.
This is why I’m not a gambling man… Mama starts off convincingly enough. The plot – two young girls are left to raise themselves in the woods after a car accident – is knowingly contrived, with enough clever nods to horror classics to satisfy genre fans. After being rescued, the girls are moved into a house with their uncle and his girlfriend. But, surprise, surprise, it becomes apparent they may not have been entirely alone in the woods. The six- and eight-year old sisters are brilliant: after The Orphanage, del Toro knows exactly how you make children scary: have them say almost nothing and never show them blinking. Children are naturally creepy, until the start speaking. Then they are just idiots.
But as the film drags on, del Toro forgets the most important rule: don’t show the monster. The occasional flash of shadow quickly becomes lingering shots of his fantasy-inspired creation, which eventually loses all of its bite.
Del Toro will probably never make a dull film; this may be as close as he gets.
First published in City A.M.