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Jessica Chastain gets scary and the results are surprisingly interesting - just don't piss 'Mama' off if you don't have to....
Universal / 100 Minutes / 2013 / Rated PG-13 / Street Date: May 7, 2013
Mama has a slam-dunk horror-creepy setup to it: it wouldn’t surprise me if the movie’s Hollywood pitch session was an absolute knockout. Our flick starts off super-dark – a businessman (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) finds himself at the epicenter of a nightmarish scenario at work (he’s a businessman working at the cusp of the financial meltdown of 2008), and snaps. He shoots his business associates, offs his wife, and takes his two young daughters out to the woods with intent to murder them then put that same gun in his mouth.
But a car crash dissolves this hideous plan. The man and the kids survive it, and somehow they’re able to find an abandoned cabin deep in the forest. Here’s where Mama’s supernatural goose-pimples kick in. As the guy points his firearm at his oldest daughter’s skull, something not human jerks the guy back, killing him instantly. The search party doesn’t find the girls for a number of years, but this shadow figure keeps those kids alive – they call her ‘Mama’.
Double Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain shows up after the kids come back to civilization – she plays the dead businessman’s sister-in-law – and as the mystery around the girls’ background unravels, the actress’ innate gravitas helps make the things that go bump in the night seem all that much more real and unsettling. Like most genre movies, if you really want to break Mama down, it’s just another creature thriller, but even if its middle hour has a big case of the sags, there are a handful of seriously effective moments here.
Chastain and executive producer Guillermo del Toro provide enough draw for even non-horror-viewers to consider giving Mama a spin, and that slightly wider berth of intrigue serves the movie well. I hate to say it because it might give Mama too much credit, but this feels like the kind of film the movie world needs more of right now. It knows its bread-and-butter audience, and delivers the screeches and eerie thrills they demand, but like Pan’s Labyrinth, there is an undercurrent of something ever so slightly more dramatically rich under its blackened crust. Again, it’s an uneven affair, but when Mama hits, it hits hard.