If only the entire film had matched the story’s wild finale. Muschietti, working with first-time feature writer (and sibling) Barbara Muschietti and veteran scripter Neil Cross (whose previous work as a writer is mostly for TV shows Luther and MI-5), has crafted a story with too many lulls and only a few unexpected surprises, until its closing moments. Ultimately, the film is not scary enough often enough, despite some strong moments.

Chastain has been in several high-profile, awards-caliber films recently, so Mama might seem like a strange career move. Her performance as a woman who discovers she has a strong mothering instinct is nowhere near the top of her recent acclaimed performances, but it helps the film rather than hurting it. Would that the same could be said for Coster-Waldau, who, through no fault of his own, spends most of the movie in a hospital bed. His character recovers in time for the film’s climax, but he remains largely an afterthought throughout the story. Jane Moffat and Daniel Kash provide amusing support as adults with professional and personal interests in the future of Victoria and Lilly. We know they’re more likely to end up as Mama’s victims than the girls’ saviors, but the film perks up whenever the actors appear.

Last year’s Sinister was the best horror film in many a moon, and Mama producer del Toro has shown a knack for the genre over most of his career. So hopes were high that Mama would further fuel a resurgence in ghost stories driven more by atmosphere than by gore. Mama turns out to be, if not a move forward in that direction, at least not a step backward. It’s more of a side step. Maybe, in hindsight, it will look like a more substantial work, but for now, the best that can be said for it is that it isn’t terrible, and that its blend of scares and sorrow sets it apart. That’s faint praise, but it’s praise nonetheless.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; the “f”-word; various obscenities
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Men drink from unmarked bottles; beer drinking
  • Sex/Nudity: Annabel kisses Lucas in bed; a man urinates; cleavage
  • Violence/Crime: Sound of a gunshot, and killing of a woman is implied; father kidnaps his daughters and holds a loaded gun to the head of one; a car accident; a man falls head-first onto a staircase; a nun is stabbed and a baby taken from her; a woman jumps from a great distance while holding her child; characters are attacked by Mama; a body floats in the water; skeletal remains
  • Religion: A woman says she’s never been a religious person; discussion of ghosts and unburied corpses

Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.

Publication date: January 18, 2013