Review: Mama / Cert: 15 / Director: Andrés Muschietti / Screenplay: Neil Cross, Andrés Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti / Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Daniel Kash / Release Date: February 22nd
Guillermo del Toro exec produced this eerie fairytale exploring the lengths a mother will go to to protect her kids, and it gets more than a pinch of his dark brand of fairy dust. Contorted limbs. Creepy kids. Bleeding black walls birthing slithering moths. All that, and you also have J-horror-style spirit effects and Jessica Chastain (enjoying a moment in the wake of Zero Dark Thirty) as a bass-playing Goth. Even if the ideas it broaches aren't fully investigated, Mama is a sensory feast and certainly del Toro-fying enough to be worth the price of a cinema ticket.
In the middle of the recession, a father is driven to the edge by the collapse of his company. He abducts his two daughters and abandons them in a cabin in the woods (where else?), where they endure a feral existence protected by a mysterious spirit mother, the Mama of the title. When the girls are finally recovered five years later, they are alive and well but alarmingly devolved. We're talking growls, Nell-like grunts and (with the aid of some slightly OTT digital FX) scary-fast animalistic movements. All a bit off-putting, but nonetheless they are rehabilitated by earnest psychologist Dr. Dreyfuss (Kash, who gets some choice psycho-babble dialogue), so they can live with their uncle (Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend, Annabel (Chastain).
From there on, the focus is on Chastain’s metamorphosis from unwilling babysitter to a veritable she-lion of a protectress as she investigates the mystery behind the girls’ strange behaviour. Who are they singing lullabies to at night and what are they hiding in the closet?
Suspense takes a hit thanks to the early reveal of the mother spirit, but Mama’s antics keep you entertained, and there are some nice twists and turns as Annabel uncovers the spirit's backstory. A disconcerting atmosphere is brewed up though Antonio Riestra's excellent camerawork and sets whose every coign seems to seethe with things waiting to jump out at you – all building to a number of well-paced scares. But what really grips your attention is the power struggle between these two strong matriarchs, in a storyline which raises intriguing (if largely unresolved) questions about the nature of parenting. True, it all feels a little diluted and Hollywood-ized compared to the original 2008 short on which this feature is based, but director Andrés Muschietti easily creates enough ambience to keep you lapping up the film like it's mother's milk.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10