Every trailer for “Mama” brags about producer Guillermo Del Toro’s participation, but don’t walk in expecting “Pan’s Laybrinth.” Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”) and Nikolaj Coster–Waldau star as Annabel and Lucas, a hipster couple who gains custody of Lucas’ nieces, who have been living in the woods since their parents’ deaths with their ghostly guardian, Mama. Needless to say, Mama doesn’t take kindly to her new children being taken away and spends the rest of the movie trying to get them back or something. Whatever she’s doing, it requires plenty of jump scares.
Director Andres Muschietti successfully blends the supernatural suspense of Mama’s impending appearances with realistic fears like motherhood and financial difficulty. The film goes beyond basic jump scares with strong cinematography that adds sophistication and turns regular scenes on their heads. However, “Mama” still retains its horror movie cred, thanks to skilled pacing and truly terrifying designs. Even after her backstory is revealed, Mama’s contorted, lanky appearance remains unnerving.
Annabel and Lucas start as unappealing adult children who gradually become scared into maturity by Mama. Chastain’s acting doesn’t fail, but she’s the only one who gets a passing grade. The child actresses, whose performances range from deranged to adorable, are better than some of the adults. The poor acting may be attributed in part to the writing, which doesn’t stray far from the basic B-movie horror scheme; some characters seem to only exist to add to the body count and often only speak in clichés.
Beneath its flaws, “Mama” is a decent story about the fears of motherhood and the relationship between a mother and daughter. By the end, the horror melts into dissatisfying melodrama, but solid scares early on don’t make it a total failure. “Mama” is only worth seeing if you’re a serious horror fan, and even then you may just want to wait until it’s online.
Our Grade: C
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