‘Mama’ delivers spooky scares
Creepy kids? Check.
Computer-generated monster? Check.
Jessica Chastain as a Goth bassist? OK.
These criteria don’t seem promising, but the new horror thriller, “Mama,” effectively delivers.
Moody, spooky and with a permeating sense of foreboding, it’s the rare PG-13 horror movie that, for the most part, actually works.
And that’s surprising, considering it’s touted as being “presented by Guillermo del Toro,” a designation that carries much less clout than it should (e.g. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”). After viewing, though, you can tell why del Toro put his name on it.
It’s the first feature-length film from director Andres Muschietti, based on his three-minute short of the same name. Del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) reportedly found it so utterly terrifying that he decided to finance a full-length version with Muschietti at the helm.
Even at 100 minutes, the film is commendably creepy, utilizing clever cinematography from Antonio Riestra (“Amores Perros”) and solid performances from its young actors to boot.
It’s only when “Mama” enters its final stretch that the story starts to unravel, as if the filmmakers wrote themselves into a corner. Fortunately, there are plenty of scares to go around before reaching that point.
The story revolves around two little girls, Victoria (Megan Charpentier, “Red Riding Hood”) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse, “Whitewash”), who were abandoned in an isolated cabin for five years.
But they weren’t alone – a fact unknown by their uncle, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), who’s been searching for them all those years. After this exhaustive search proves fruitful, he and his live-in girlfriend, Annabel (Chastain, “The Help”), adopt the duo upon recommendation from psychiatrist Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash, “Aliens”).
Victoria, the older sister, can still remember how to communicate, but Lilly, who was only a toddler when they were abandoned, isn’t so fortunate – hissing, clawing and scampering away from her adoptive parents.
Annabel is understandably reluctant, considering she loathes children (particularly feral ones), but goes along with it for Lucas’s sake. Unfortunately for the unsuspecting couple, the children have brought something with them – a malevolent spirit they refer to as “Mama” (Javier Botet, “[Rec]”).
When Lucas is hospitalized after a suspicious accident, Annabel must raise the kids on her own, her maternal instincts gradually kicking in. This doesn’t bode well with Mama, who has taken to raising the girls as her own.
While Victoria grows leery of Mama’s intentions, Lilly is gleefully oblivious, since Mama is the only mother figure she’s ever known. Creepiness and supernatural mayhem ensue, as everyone begins to realize that something is amiss and nothing is as it seems.
What works best in “Mama” is its concept, the same that enamored del Toro from the get-go. Children being raised by a ghost – a particularly ghastly one at that, contorting in all sorts of unnatural directions and bearing a face that exudes malice – makes for an honestly creepy story.
“Mama” has its share of jump scares, but all of them actually pay off. As in some of the best horror movies, the most frightening parts come from the sense of foreboding, the anticipation that something potentially terrifying is about to happen – whether it’s opening a closet door, turning a corner or catching something in the corner of your eye.
Add to that some Hitchcockian cinematography and some surprisingly effective CGI, and you’ve got the makings for some genuine scares.
“Mama,” rated PG-13 for violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 13-B or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.