Last night, I finally got around to seeing the movie "Mama", a movie I was really looking forward to. Well, I don't usually review things, but I have to share my thoughts on this movie.
SPOILERS AHEAD! Stop reading if you haven't seen the movie and intend to.
My first problem with this movie is genre. It felt like they didn't know what kind of movie they wanted to make. The last fifteen minutes or so, bewildered and angered me to no end. Despite being labeled as a horror movie (and having waaaay too many "jump" scares), the end suddenly turned into something else. Suddenly, the character of Mama was no longer a creature you only saw glimpses of (which is what made her scary), but now dominated the screen. Not only did this take away from her scariness and highlighted how bad the special effects were, but it changed the genre. The last fifteen minutes could've been pulled from a fantasy movie. It kind of felt like the movie was suddenly taken over by a completely different writer and director who decided it was time to make a fantasy movie with spiritual undertones.
Now, to be fair, sometimes making changes like this can work. "The Orphanage" remains one of my favorite horror movies of recent years because of an unexpected ending. (I won't give anything away, but it's a movie worth seeing!). Mama's unexpected ending didn't work for me...at all. Here's why IMHO. The character of Mama is overly simple and completely unsympathetic (both in life and death), and yet the movie makers seem to think they've made a complex and sympathetic horror villain. Mama is pretty one dimensional. She was a selfish, dangerous, mentally unstable person in life, and she's a selfish, dangerous, mentally unstable spirit. In life, her baby is taken away due to her mental instability (or so implied), and she kills a nun to get the baby back, only to hurl her and her baby off of a cliff. Then, in death, she becomes possessive of two little girls whose dad killed their mom and takes them out for a little drive to kill them and himself. Well, before he gets a chance to kill them, Mama kills him and then cares for the two girls for five years (the how is anybody's guess) until they are found by their uncle's search party. Interestingly enough, Mama killed the girls' father for basically doing (or planning to do) the same thing she did to her child. Oh, Mama, you're such a hypocrite.
So after five years in the wild, the little girls adjust pretty well to being back in regular society. I mean, these girls were walking around on all fours and talking to an evil spirit for five years, but nothing that a bath and a pair of glasses can't fix. For some reason, only the older sister has to be in therapy, despite the fact that the younger sister is obviously more mentally disturbed. Go figure.
If I could have a favorite part of this movie, it'd have to be when Annabelle, their uncle's girlfriend who becomes their full-time caretaker after Mama puts him in the hospital, bonds with the younger sister finally, and you see the little girl start to behave less like a wild animal. This scene is actually really touching and meaningful...or it should have been. Apparently, the movie makers forgot this scene was filmed when they went to film the ending, because it was rendered completely pointless by the upshoot.
And now the ending. Where to begin?
Uncle Lucas gets out of the hospital just in time to find out that Mama has taken the two girls back to the original cabin where they lived for five years. Mama also randomly kills their aunt (who had some vague subplot which only came into play at the director's convenience) and possesses her body for reasons unexplained. So Uncle Lucas and his girlfriend Annabelle find the girls on the cliff where Mama killed herself and her baby a hundred years prior. This cliff is oddly placed right outside the cabin, despite the close proximity never being shown before the end. But whatever. Maybe it was a magical cliff that appears on Mama's whim. So Uncle Lucas gets to the cliff just in time to be attacked and rendered useless by Mama again. His character might as well not have even been in the film.
So Annabelle has the remains of Mama's baby (skeleton baby should've probably been enough to give this movie an R rating btw), but Mama isn't happy and flings the baby's bones off of the cliff in a bad cgi effect. Oh, but remember, this is a villain we're supposed to be sympathetic towards. And briefly, ever so briefly, when she unwraps the blanket and sees the skeleton baby, I was sympathetic. And I was waiting for her to jump off the cliff with it and be at peace. But nay, we get flying baby bones instead, which is pretty damn heartless even by an evil spirit's standards. So she wants the living children instead of her dead baby, and continues her mission of trying to go off the cliff with them. The older girl refuses and stays with Annabelle (she's using her head for something other than a hat rack), but the younger sister happily goes into Mama's arms and goes over the cliff with her, in some bad cgi cocoon like effect, smiling all the way down.
But wait there's more!
The little girl comes back as a freakin' butterfly and lands on her sister's hand. The End.
I have never had a bigger WTF moment at the end of a movie. What was the point of showing Annabelle and Lilly (the younger sister) bonding if she was just going to happily choose Mama at the end anyway? Why the hell did she come back as a butterfly? Why did the end play out like we were supposed to feel happy and hopeful for this extremely troubled family? Who's going to explain all of the random murders connected to this family and the disappearance of one of the little girls they were supposed to be responsible for? It looks to me that the family's problems are only just beginning.
For some reason, when the movie didn't end with Mama taking her dead baby over the cliff with her, I had another idea of what was going to happen. My thought was, at the beginning of the movie the girls' father kills their mother, and for some reason I kept expecting her spirit to come and duke it out with Mama to save her children's life. Sure, it would've been kind of hokey, but I also think it could've been interesting since their mother's murder was really brushed over. Actually I even entertained the notion that Mama was their mother and that's why she killed their father before he killed them, but that was before Mama's backstory was revealed. Hell, even if their father's spirit (who does appear to his brother in a dream) would've come back to redeem himself for intending to kill his girls by saving them would've been an interesting twist. Honestly, just about anything would've been better than the ending we got.
I think a lot of people like to credit a movie when it has the courage to have an unhappy ending, and in this case, kill off a child, but in all honesty, I think that's bull. Yes, Hollywood does tend to be a fan of happy endings, so anything that strays from that seems "deep" and "courageous" by comparison, but for me, there has to be a good reason to do these things. I don't always need a happy ending, but an unhappy one needs to be satisfying in some way. Plenty of horror movies end unhappily, and I still enjoy them because they're cleverly written or there really is a deeper meaning behind it. "Mama" was just a bummer and completely pointless. The unhappy ending just seemed contrived and only done to avoid any sort of hokey happy ending. The problem is, the ending was hokey anyway and left a bad taste in the viewer's mouth on top of it.
But hey, at least the movie got a PG-13 rating, so kids will get the
message that flinging yourself off a cliff is a fun and happy event, and
you get to come back as a beautiful butterfly.