Thursday 28 February 2013

Dark Review - Mama

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Mama Review

By Casey Douglass

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 Image ©Universal Pictures

If you go down to the woods today, you’ll be sure to find a big surprise. Two kids left in a scabby old hut and a ghost with wonky eyes.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Mama is the story of two young girls who are abandoned in a dingy cabin in a typically bleak looking forest. In typical horror fashion, they aren’t alone, but in this case, the cranky spirit actually cares for and looks after them. This is fine until five years later, their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) adopt them and move into a new home under the supervision of Dr Gerald Dreyfuss who is in charge of seeing that the now quite feral girls are looked after properly and are in the best environment. The bad thing for pretty much everyone involved is that the spirit, called Mama, moves in with them.

I felt in some ways, that it was very much a film of two halves. The first half was more subtle, with some really good sleight-of-hand scares. A great example of this is a scene in which the two sisters are playing in their room framed through an open doorway. The camera changes to what Annabel is doing and then back to the sisters. You can see one still playing but it isn’t until the other walks across the hallway behind Annabel that you realise that Mama is playing with the other one. It was very effective and happened a number of times in different ways.

The latter part of the film fell prey to the usual cinematic horror mistake of showing too much of the monster. Mama was still suitably otherworldly and strange looking, but after prolonged exposure to her, you began to see how the CGI just wasn’t that good in places. There were also some scenes that bordered on the comical which also detracted from the thrill of watching a good horror. It was a far cry from the early part of the film which had people looking up into corners of the room and not knowing why they felt uncomfortable.

I felt Jessica Chastain stole the show with her moody rock-band-playing Annabel who was subject to a good deal of Mama’s tormenting. This is in stark contrast to another character who was purely in the film to be disliked and to become fodder for Mama. The girls were suitable creepy however and played feral children very well.

The film has a bitter-sweet ending which I felt fitted it well, and a little more insight into Mama is given which almost aroused feelings of pity for her.

I would give Mama 3.5 out of 5 if I had to rate it. It didn’t really make me jump that much, but then it wasn’t the kind of film to use cheap tricks (like sudden loud noise) to inspire scares.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Dark Review - Dear Esther

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My review of the walk-around-and-listen-to-a-story game Dear Esther is now up on Geek Syndicate at this link. I enjoyed it, but it won't suit everybody.

Thursday 7 February 2013

Dark Review - Fausto 5.0

I have always had a liking for films and novels based on the Faustian idea of selling your soul to the devil for the reward of earthly delights. Not because I would enter such an agreement myself, but just from sheer fascination with the concept. So when I was browsing HMV's World Cinema section and saw Fausto 5.0 for not much money, I thought I would take a punt on it.

It is in Spanish with English subtitles, which is fine by me but if you cannot tolerate subtitles, I pity you. It follows the trials and tribulations of Dr Fausto as he travels to a medical convention and runs into an old patient of his who has miraculously survived a serious illness, thanks in no small part to Dr Fausto. He wants to make Fausto happy, and offers to grant him favours. This sets the scene for the film to slowly evolve, the favours become "wishes" and Fausto slowly makes the transformation from resisting to revelling in his own darker nature. As all good Faustian tales though, he doesn't get it all his own way and is toyed with and tricked on more than one occasion.

I felt the film was quite subtle in some ways, brash in others. The start of the film is interlaced with murk and gloom, the main character experiencing frightening thoughts and things just seeming sinister. A good example of this is a pack of dark hounds running beside the train he is travelling on. As the story develops, it uses coincidence very effectively to give the feeling of Fausto being stalked by his old patient, and leaving the viewer wondering how the patient is doing it and what he really is. I was quite impressed that the film stayed away from the more obvious aspects of the Faust story, such as literally asking Fausto to sign his soul away. There is one scene near the end where it might have happened, but that could have simply been a playful nod to the audience with a roguish wink thrown in for good measure.

I watched this film with the classic Faust story firmly in mind. The film was broadly true to the overall idea but went its own way in certain areas with the execution, which I applaud. When the credits rolled, I felt wholly satisfied with what I had seen and will enjoy another viewing at some later date I am sure.

Rating : 4.5/5

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Spreading the Darkness

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The lovely people at the Geek Syndicate have deemed my writing worthy of their free digital magazine, for which I am very grateful to them. It is a review of Deadlight, the limboesque Zombie survival game, and can be found amongst lots of other great articles here.

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