The Films of Andy Muschietti
Mama (January 31/13)
Inspired by a short film, Mama kicks off with a striking sequence in which a distressed businessman (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's Jeffrey) murders his wife and absconds with his two young daughters (Megan Charpentier's Victoria and Isabelle Nélisse's Lilly) to a remote cabin in the woods - with Jeffrey's attempts at murdering his kids thwarted by a malevolent demon known only as Mama. After spending several years living in the woods with Mama, Victoria and Lilly are rescued and sent to live with Lucas (Coster-Waldau), Jeffrey's brother, and Annabel (Jessica Chastain) - although, as expected, Mama doesn't take too kindly to the intrusion. There's ultimately little doubt that Mama fares best in its opening stretch, as filmmaker Andy Muschietti does a fantastic job of establishing an atmosphere of moody dread - with the partial reveal of the title character certainly as creepy and ominous as one might've hoped. It's only as the movie segues into its narrative proper that the viewer's interest slowly-but-surely begins to flag, with Muschietti's decision to employ a pace that's often suffocatingly deliberate draining the proceedings of its tension and, eventually, forcing the viewer to wish that the director would just get on with it, already (ie the novelty of Mama suddenly popping up behind unsuspecting characters wears off awfully quickly). The movie's progressively uninvolving vibe is compounded by an increased emphasis on Annabel's Ring-style investigation into Mama's origins, while the anticlimactic finale, which is rife with second-rate computer-generated imagery, ensures that Mama ends on as underwhelming a note as one could possibly imagine. The end result is an almost typically disappointing modern ghost story that possesses few overtly positive attributes, which is a shame, really, given the potential afforded by both the stirring prologue and the impressive roster of performers.
Based on about half of Stephen King's massively overlong novel, It follows several scrappy adolescents as they band together to defeat a terrifying evil (which most often presents itself as a clown named Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgard). There's ultimately not a whole lot within It that works beyond the level of passable competence, as the movie, which runs a needlessly bloated 135 minutes, tells an often excessively familiar story of ragtag outcasts and their efforts at overcoming a series of obstacles - with the less-than-fresh atmosphere compounded by a selection of one-dimensional, scarcely-developed characters (ie these protagonists are essentially defined by their most obvious, outward personality traits and that's all). And while Skarsgard does an effective job of transforming Pennywise into an indelible villain, the decision to keep the creepy clown front and center throughout slowly-but-surely drains him of his effectiveness (ie the equivalent would be if the shark in Jaws had been a prominent presence right from the get-go). Having said that, It admittedly does boast a handful of extremely effective moments (eg the kids' attempt to view slide photos is derailed by Pennywise's sudden appearance) and the movie generally manage to hold one's interest throughout - although the decidedly episodic structure does result in a palpable lack of momentum (which, in turn, paves the way for a less-than-enthralling climax). It's ultimately clear that It most likely stands as the best adaptation of a seriously unwieldy book one could've hoped for, and yet one can't hope that the inevitable part two is able to make a more markedly (and consistently) positive impact than this.