Co-written and directed by Andres Muschietti, "Mama" is presented by executive producer Guillermo del Toro, and is partially haunted by his sensibility.
Orphaned sisters Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse) are discovered in an abandoned cabin in the woods five years after their disappearance (and their father's very, very bad reaction to the 2008 financial crisis). Their cool uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his punky partner Annabel (Jessica Chastain) become the girls' new guardians, by agreeing to relocate into a house provided for "special cases" by child psychologist Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash).
And this case is special, as the girls are feral and frightening and rarely speak unless talking to something from the cabin they call "mama" who may have followed them into their new home. The younger sister is particularly unnerving as she scurries around like a hybrid crab-monkey from Hell.
"Mama" wisely takes its time with its reveals, and starts out following the principle that less is more. Whether due to budgetary constraints or creative vision, the movie makes your subconscious supply what the movie withholds. "Don't open the closet," says Victoria to Annabel. This is the dark childhood habitat from where "Mama" goes bump in the night.
The carefree Annabel readily admits that she is not a good fit for the mother surrogate role, and in case that's not clear, she often helpfully wears her "Misfits" t-shirt. Her maternal transformation, though unsurprising, is the only real character arc in the movie, making "Mama" that rare creature: a horror chick flick.
The movie does suffer from some of the standard problems of the genre, including the why-is-this-person-going-into-scary-places-alone-without-telling-anyone problem. It has its share of cliché techniques to make you jump, which seem all the more disappointing when compared to its more clever ones.
As the movie gradually relies more heavily on CGI, it breaks its own spell, and its third act is structurally sloppy. The movie may have its flaws, but no parent is perfect, and it's worth paying a visit to see "Mama".
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