Shiver Fest

What does Guillermo del Toro do when he is not making sympathetic horror films like like Chronos, those Hell Boy pics, and Pan’s Labyrinth, movies that seek to absolutely unfurl what the mainstream monster means? He gets other people to do his dirty work for him. In this case, del Toro has played executive producer to a remake of director Andres Muschietti’s own 2008 Spanish-language three minute chiller of the same name.


The atmospheric and aurally unnerving result is a true shiver fest of a cinematic translation, employing the typical del Toro tropes of children who are hip to the unseen world, houses that are haunted by the specters of social ills (in this case the murderous effects of collapsing economy, and how fast hipster family life might fall apart apart). Mama is a movie where moths act as psychopomps, and mothers as avengers of the misunderstood.


The plot is an ugly and unsettling campaign: rich guy kills his wife and tries to kill his little girls, but fails due to some otherworldly interference, and the girls live on as feral kids less likened to Truffaut’s Wild Child than to that recent Japanese horror tradition of messed up and twitchy tikes we’ve seen in Ring or Grudge.


This Spanish-Canadian film is remarkable in its faith that people watching will not need plot points. Annabel, a woman of extreme but justified ambivalence who gives up a rocker career of grungy abandon to try to become a maternal figure to a wild child and her even wilder sis, is the embodiment of resentment and restrain. Jessica Chastain, already having played an un-anchored angelic type in Terrance Malick’s earthbound ethereal mediation Tree of Life, wears her attitude on her black t-shirts that promote bands like The Misfits, and lets loose her sleaze by commenting on Bruce Dern’s derriere.


This method of a character development through objects and observation actually works. But when you realize, once you see that the actual rhythm of the fright flick moves along by getting rid of all the guys, or even the women who act like guys, you sort of wonder about the subtext: which just might be that you need to get rid of all the guys in order to free the women.


That terrible dad gets his comeuppance earlier on; his well meaning but ineffectual brother, who desires only to take care of his nieces, at the expense of his lover, is easily enough incapacitated on some stairs; the skeptical headshrinker who tries to find out what the hell is really going on by trying to take ghost pictures gets his grisly end; and the survivors are all female. It is an effective execution that asks: Does every guy have to die just so the girls can live? The answer in this film is yes, but that still doesn’t save all the characters, nor does it save this film from being more about message than menace.


Playing Parker

It’s really unfair to have any criticism with the action thrill ride Parker. The movie is just what it is: that kind of cinematic speed and sensation you can only get by rooting for a criminal who is unafraid of other criminals. In this way the bright and hurried heist works; but the character of Parker, based on a chameleon-like con man who lives by his own code of taking from only those who can afford to be taken from and not hurting anyone innocent is one of those rare fictional bad guys that seems to never come off right on screen. It’s based on the darker novels of Donald E. Westlake, who used the pseudonym Richard Stark for his Parker novels. His ability to go from humorous detective novels to psychopathic driven tough guy tales so fascinated Stephen King that he wrote that Dark Half book about the dilemma. Parker is a mystery that is not easily translated onto the screen, which must come to a continual surprise to film producers, as the medium is perhaps the most powerful in its ability to convey, through jump cuts and zoom, the chilling world of the misanthropic loner. Jason Statham, as a master thief and a relentless revenge driven maniac, plays a great Parker. But as usual, the almost preternaturally charming Jennifer Lopez, whose portrayal of a no-nonsense woman trying to survive the real estate game will make you want to run out to re-watch Out of Sight, steals the show away from the guy who is supposed to be the star.

Roberto Ontiveros