Short horror films have the extra difficult job of becoming horrific within a much smaller amount of time, without seeming contrived, forced, or hurried. On top of all else, to be really good, they must develop the characters and make them believable; they must also establish, if not a full plot, at least something that makes the short experience still worth the viewer’s time. Hopefully, in their shortness, they will also, leave something for the viewer to want—perhaps answers to a mystery; perhaps, better yet, a full-length feature. Mama is a short film that does all of the above in just over three minutes; the all-important element of horror is there in just seconds! Yes, what many full-length films can’t achieve in an hour and a half, Mama does in just moments.
In the opening scene, a young girl—Victoria—is asleep in her bed. A blurred, backward-walking figure—Lili—enters and falls to the floor. Already, it’s scary. Already, we know something is not right, and the unknown is all that’s necessary to fuel the fear. Before we even hear the words “…we have to go…” we are ready to go ourselves. To make things worse, it’s “Mama” they must run from. Yes, the one children look to for safety is, here, the one from whom they must flee. Why? Who knows, but it sure is scary! Did I already say that once? Yes, but is needs to be said twice!
The camera spirals down a staircase with the two young girls as they run, in the darkness. Mama is home, and all I’ll say is this: Mama is NOT your ordinary, loving, coddler of children. This mama is one scary-looking bitch, more likely to kill a child than change its diapers! This woman-creature (or monster masquerading as a woman) is the type of thing that lives only in Hell!
“Why is Mama so scary?” you ask. Let’s begin with the children. Children are always more vulnerable to danger, and we identify with that immediately as adults. Mama is truly scary not only because she’s a monster, but because her own children are scared to death of her. (…and we’re talking pee-in-your-pants afraid!) Instead of Mama knows best, it’s the children know best here! Because of this, Mama is scary as $%@# before she ever appears! We won’t even talk about how bad it gets, once you’ve seen her.
“How does Mama develop character so quickly,” you ask. Mama takes an effective shortcut that leaves it lacking in no way. The two young girls in Mama are just like so many young girls we know—our own daughters, those we see every day somewhere, or even the children we were ourselves. Their typical appearance and behavior are perfect anchors, attaching to what we already know. The girls are familiar, and we feel their fear.
“Who or what is Mama?” you ask. Who knows! But, I wouldn’t tell you, if I knew. I’ll only say that she’s something not of this world—or any part of the world known by the living. From a blurred distance, Mama looks like any other mama; but that’s where it ends. Oh, and Mama’s hair! What a strange, weaving organ of growth and movement those fearful follicles are! Would a haircut help her? I doubt it! I’d say that Mama’s problems are much more than skin deep, scalp deep, or any other depth of what we call human. Will I tell you more about Mama? No. I’m going to make you watch the whole three-minute movie to find out. Imagine that! 🙂
Do the girls act well enough? Absolutely! Victoria Harris (as Lili) and Berta Ros (as Victoria) are genuine and authentic, just as young girls are—and just as they might be in just such an event. They don’t appear to be acting; they appear to be living it, as if they are familiar with Mama, but all the more frightened to be familiar.
The special effects in Mama are outstanding! I’ve not seen much better in movies with exponentially-larger budgets. They are done so well and realistically that I only assume, because of what expect, that they are computer generated. I’ve seen nothing better come from Hollywood.
The cinematography is also top of the line here. Camera movement is fluid and natural—especially in the earlier-mentioned scene with the girls fleeing down the spiral staircase. The camera actually follows them, with a spiral movement, as they run. Impressive! The lighting is low and atmospheric, creating a gothic feel throughout. Blurred, out-of-focus effects are used well to keep things unpredictable, otherworldly, and yes…unknown. With this, Mama never becomes too familiar for her own gothic good—or eternal evil, I should say!
Mama is in Spanish with English subtitles. Before you stop reading right now, hold on just a second! Even if you don’t like subtitles, the payoff here far exceeds the time you’ll spend reading the words. Trust me! Mama doesn’t even have time to be tedious. She’ll take a shortcut to that vulnerable, well-protected place in your mind, and the long road leaving!
The word is that Guillermo del Toro is in negotiations to produce a full-length horror feature for Universal Pictures, also titled Mama. Andres and Barbara Muschietti (the writers of the original short film) are said to also be writing the English-language script, with Andy directing and Barbara producing. The plotline for the full feature is, of course, being kept under wraps—or perhaps somewhere beneath Mama’s hair. (Yes, that, I suspect, would be the safest place to keep it! Who would ever go there to find it!) As of now, all that’s known is that, like the short film, it’s about two girls on the run from a ghostly woman who appears to be their mother. I’ve also heard that the girls, in the feature film, had been lost in the woods for several years, with the mother attempting to reclaim them later; but, that’s only what I’ve heard. Okay, how much more creepy can this get? With Guillermo del Toro in charge, I’d say a lot!
Mama is one scary-as-Hell piece of short-film horror! From the beginning, you feel as if something is standing behind you, or, perhaps, that something just moved in the shadows—of your own home! Yes, Mama creeped me out as much as I ever get creeped out, in a fraction of the time it usually takes. Mama is a lean and fat-free diet of fear, sautéed with a tasty touch of terror. It left lots of interesting, unanswered questions, and made me really want that full-length feature said to be in the works. With Guillermo del Toro directing, and the same writers writing, things are looking bright—or should I say appropriately dark? 🙂
Would it be right if it took you more than three minutes to read a review for a three-minute movie? Would it be right if I spoiled the ending that you likely won’t expect? Probably not. That’s why I’m stopping right here, before Mama and her horrific hair comes after me too. Within, she might just find the frightened little child in us all!
Starring Victoria Harris, Berta Ros, and Irma Monroig, Written and Directed by Andres Muschietti, Director of Photography: Sebastian Sarraute, Director of Art: Pancho Chamoro, Music by Gil Talmi, Produced by Barbara Muschietti