Mama's strength lies in its atmosphere and for the first hour or so; the movie holds a spell over you thanks to some creepy visuals and background score that hits all the right notes. There is ever-present sense of dread that drips from every frame like cold sweat and till the movie's biggest reveal turns the monster in the shadows into a C.G.I. abomination it's one of the best horror movies I've seen in the past year. The last thirty odd minutes however are a huge letdown and it clearly shows that the makers had no idea what to do with the brilliant setup they have concocted.
The movie starts off with a man whisking away two little girls to a cabin in the woods to kill them. Turns out it's their father, who after the financial ruin he's faced wishes not to live his life anymore. Just as the father is ready to pull the trigger, he's attacked and killed by a mysterious creature but the girls for some reason are spared. Many years later, the cabin is found and the girls too, though on account of having to live by themselves for many years in the wild has turned them into feral beasts of some kind. The older of the two, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) still manages to speak and understand English but the younger one, Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse) has no comprehensible means of communication. The girls are placed in the protective custody of their uncle, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain). The last thing on Annabel's mind is raising children and after a series of rough starts, things start turning around at least for Victoria and her. The young Lilly still doesn't warm up to Annabel and keeps referring to an entity known as mama who Annabel will soon enough realize has made her presence known in their new house too. The movie then races to uncover the truth behind the matter of this mysterious being that the girls keep seeing everywhere.
It's easy to get lost in the simplicity yet creepy atmosphere of the setup; the stillness of the camera in certain scenes manages to make the hair on the back of your neck stand with all the static and anticipation it builds. To see movement which you can't fully comprehend much like an arachnid moving quickly only adds to that creepy factor. Even the initial mystery surrounding the creature referred to as 'Mama' keeps you reeled in. However once the cat is out of the bag, the movie starts to break down, sputtering to the finish line.
Guillermo Del Toro executive produces the movie built from a short film made by Andres Muschietti who's also the director here. His approach yields a horror movie that is miles ahead of the competition in the first hour or so but deserves a far better wrap up than the one it gets.