No other word screams horror like what babies call their mom, right?
This is another outing in "gore-less" horror that is steadily becoming more popular then what it used to be. Of course, this is a horror movie, and is therefore meant to scare. So if your'e child is the type to like being scared, and if they prefer this kind of horror (ex. The Others, Insidious, Paranormal Activity) then this should be right up their alley. While the actual showing of blood and gore is close to zero, their are some images shown. A baby's skeleton is shown, and the actual design of Mama (which is only shown for longer then flashes in the last act of the film) can be disturbing. A lot of scenes can be tense atmosphere, especially the one involving the closet. The mother (Jessica Chastain) is a great role model. She's passionate about connecting to these two new daughters she feels she's been alienated from. We see the girl's uncle was always dedicated to finding her nieces for years, and the couple tries very hard to keep their makeshift family together.
This film is... not the best compared to most of Guillermo Del Toro's other work. I can't say this is as good as Le Orfanato. It has it's good scares, a few that I would even say are masterfully shot, edited, and put to music. That fantastic tug-a-war scene, the nightmare sequence, and the psychologists visit to the cabin are probably the highlights. The movie stays strong throughout it's majority, there's a tense atmosphere, scares built on a tower of dread. The two child characters in this movie are much more developed and well, child-like then other children in movies. A lot of times, children play either "perfect, wise angel that knows everything you need to know to win at life", "Satan" or "...uh, I don't know, cute I guess". Here, the kids have their own arc. They start off icy and distant, not knowing how to react to these new people and this new world. But over time, they grow to attach to their new mom. The two even have arguments about Mama and what they want to do about her. This is subtle foreshadowing to a twist that presents an unexpected third option to what would normally be a two option scenario.
But it's not all perfect. The third and final act is... strange. It's not completely tonally inconsistent, and it's not like once we see the full design of Mama, she suddenly becomes silly. But something falls apart. Part of it could be that once we see Mama in full, the filmmakers suddenly don't care about the restrictions of Mama's character. She can now do whatever she wants. She wants to absorb into the floor, she can absorb into the floor, she wants to teleport, she can teleport. And the actual ending on the edge of the cliff, it just keeps going, and going, and going, and it frustrates you that this movie just won't end! Not to mention that aunt that was just put on screen to be a whiny person and then die. She almost creates her own subplot about trying to take the kids from the uncle, but it goes nowhere.
It clearly wasn't meant to be as memorable as some of Del Toro's other work in the first place. This movie doesn't stand out amongst most horror as being especially original, weird, or emotionally powerful. It puts in just enough substance to sustain interest, and if it had a better last third, I would probably look at it a little more fondly. But hey, it always get's props for being the only movie to make the word "Mama" sound genuinely scary.
What other families should know
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much swearing