A father driving too fast down an icy street, swerves off the road hitting a tree on an embankment below. Still alive, he and his two toddler daughters Victoria and Lilly escape with their lives and find shelter in an old deserted cabin in the woods. But all is not right in this shack. Something evil seizes the father, leaving the little girls to fend for themselves. Abandoned and living alone they become feral in behavior.
If Jessica Chastain was embarrassed by this film she could’ve just said no. She’s virtually unrecognizable in a short jet black wig and abundant tattoos. She’s in a rock band and kind of recalls Joan Jett. Her boyfriend (Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is the girl’s uncle and he agrees to take these wild children into their home. Surprise! Surprise! The entity that was responsible for their father’s disappearance seems to have followed the girls. Naturally mayhem ensues.
Mama has a lot going for it before it ultimately falls apart in the final third. There’s a brilliant opening credits sequence that uses the toddler’s drawings to depict life in that cabin from their perspective. The drawings of the children on all fours are chilling and prep the audience for what is to come. That’s a great start. The problem is Mama doesn’t present anything you haven’t seen hundreds of times already, in better movies I might add. The first occasion I saw a person contort their body into a spider-like stance and walk on the ceiling I was totally freaked out, the 10th time it put me to sleep.
Mama is a lazy amalgamation of kids in peril, overprotective mothers, haunted houses and supernatural forces. Initially the quick glimpses and faraway shots of the entity are very creepy. The soundtrack by Fernando Velázquez is lush and sophisticated in a way that really elevates this material into something elegant. But eventually you realize the only trick this story has up its sleeve is one loud burst of noise after another. Even the sinister moths, yes moths [The Silence of the Lambs, Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Mothman Prophecies] sound like a flock of pigeons when they fly by. Furthermore what was once a mysterious creature becomes more and more visible until it is literally right in our faces. In brief snatches it was scary, but with the lights on in full view it looks like a bad CGI effect. Director Andrés Muschietti expanded his 3 minute short into 100 and it shows. It drags, oh how it drags! There’s not enough here to justify the prolonged running length. Mama is a classy horror film, I’ll give it that. For some, that may suffice. But when the proper remedy is applied to placate this spirit in the climax and it doesn‘t stick, I gave up. I only hope this doesn’t make people forget Jessica Chastain’s fine work in Zero Dark Thirty. That would be the scariest thing.