“Guillermo Del Toro Presents” is enough to get my money. There are a few “Guillermo Del Toro Presents” movies, which means they’re produced by Del Toro but not actually written or directed by him. His mere involvement gets touted from the top of the poster and the front (or back) of all TV ads and trailers.
These movies have mostly been good – “Splice” and “Orphanage” began the “Guillermo Del Toro Presents” label and it has carried on with “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and now “Mama.”
Other filmmakers do the same thing. “Quentin Tarantino Presents” was atop the campaigns for “Hostel” and “The Man With the Iron Fists.” So, meh. And Steven Spielberg is the presenter or producer of all sorts of stuff, including “Transformers,” “Cowboys and Aliens,” “Real Steel,” “Super 8” and the TV shows “Falling Skies,” “Terra Nova” and “Smash.” All those are big-budget, special-effects-stravaganzas… with the weird exception of “Smash,” a TV show about dancing.
The “Guillermo Del Toro” brand is one I buy because it almost always means monsters. Nightmare creatures are his forte. We don’t often get legitimately cool creatures in movies any more – just check out the aforementioned “Super 8,” with a totally forgettable central monster, and the recent “Clash of the Titans” movies, which were built around huge battles featuring gray, generic beasts with no imaginative design elements.
Del Toro specializes in the design elements. A classic recent New Yorker piece on Del Toro included this description of Sammael, from Del Toro’s movie “Hellboy”: Del Toro had given Sammael, who has a lion’s mane of writhing tentacles, a subtle motif of asymmetry; one front limb is slightly longer than the other, setting his gait off balance, and he has an extra eye on the right side of his snout.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” was not directed by Del Toro, but because he produced I figured it had monsters. The film isn’t great, but the little black demon fairies who talk trash and eat children’s teeth made it worth watching once.
Does Mama in “Mama” live up to his standards? Not really. The creature is a ghost this time, who keeps appearing in the background just long enough to startle. She kills some characters who aren’t central to the story, while sparing the ones whom she actually hates. And she might be made of moths, or maybe butterflies. It doesn’t really make sense.
So the brand appears to have let us down in this case. That’s OK, though, because of what’s on the horizon. Del Toro has written and directed an crazy-looking summer blockbuster coming out called “Pacific Rim,” about giant government robots fighting giant monsters from another dimension. The trailer is sick:
And he’s directing the pilot for a TV show on FX based on the “Strain” trilogy of vampire apocalypse novels he wrote with Chuck Hogan. FX shows are consistently great, and those “Strain” books were awesome, filled with great heroes and villains and all sorts of demonic characters and horror elements.
So “Mama” is a letdown, but Del Toro fans need not be too worried. Having abandoned “The Hobbit” to Peter Jackson after years of pre-production (Del Toro was to direct the “Hobbit” movies but bailed after numerous lawyer-related production delays), he’s got actual projects coming out. “Mama” is some weak tea coming from the genius who helmed “Pan’s Labyrinth,” but “Pacific Rim” and “The Strain” are going to rock.