Director: Andrés Muschietti
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Studio: Toma 78
Hey, you wanna see something really scary? Get yourself to the smart, small, stylish Mama, a horror movie made by and for people who value tension and suspense over splatter and gore.
The movie, presented by Guillermo del Toro, stars Zero Dark Thirty Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain and handsome Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as an artsy, self-absorbed couple who, despite their obvious personal and financial limitations, foster feral young sisters (Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse) who, five years before, had been left for dead by Coster-Waldau’s brother. A bigwig doctor (Daniel Kash) sets them up in a spiffy but creepy suburban home to study whether the badly traumatized sibs can become socialized enough to quit doing things like crawling around on all fours like demented insects.
Chastain’s messed-up character struggles to muster maternal compassion, but things get quietly creepier what with giant moths, apparitions and whatnots making brief, tantalizing appearances at regular intervals whenever the girls are around. Although Mama is never really surprising or revelatory, the modest movie holds your attention, looks great and, especially for fans of ’40s thrillers like Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie, stays pretty consistently atmospheric and creepy without resorting to played-out horror tropes and clichés. Well, except for overreliance on tacky musical “stings,” anyway. Mama may not provide Chastain’s finest hour as a thespian, but she, Coster-Waldau, Charpentier and Nélisse more than get the job done.
The whole affair is confidently and expertly directed by first-timer Andrés Muschietti from a script credited to him, Neil Cross and Barbara Muschietti. Bravo and brava to them all for hatching up some fun, tingly, skin-crawling stuff.