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Overall Rating

Awesome: 8.33%
Worth A Look: 16.67%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 8.33%

1 review, 6 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Takes an interesting set-up and tells an ordinary ghost story."
3 stars

Did I miss some sort of event where moths became a primal human fear? They've been popping up in horror movies more and more lately, apparently as something creepier than a nuisance, so I guess they must scare someone. Granted, moths aren't the only part of this movie's mythology and story that seem random, but at least a fair amount of the rest seems to come from somewhere. Not all of it, though, and that's what makes "Mama" less than it could be.

It starts when an unhinged man takes his very young daughters and heads out of town, only to... Well, anyway, five years later, just as the man's brother Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is running out of money to continue searching for his missing family, the now-eight-year-old Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and six-year-old Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) are found, practically feral. This is not the sort of instant family Lucas's musician girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) was looking for, and the girls' aunt Jean (Jane Moffat) is seeking custody, but the scientist helping to re-acclimate them (Daniel Kash) offers them the use of a house if he can continue studying them - although he soon becomes convinced that the "Mama" whom Victoria says helped them survive might be more than an imaginary friend.

Andrés Muschietti directs and co-writes the script with Barbara Muschietti and Neil Cross, and while the main character arc he's basing the movie on isn't exactly original - Annabel is extremely pleased when a pregnancy test comes up negative at the start, so of course she'll have to assume responsibility for these kids! - it's something that speaks to enough people to work. Having up-and-comer Jessica Chastain (who, after Zero Dark Thirty, can probably be said to have up-and-arrived) is likely a huge help; she and Muschetti make Annabel unprepared and a little immature without making her ever come off as a terrible person. They even hit the right "unconventional, improvising single parent" notes without veering into sitcom territory.

That's a nice place to start, but the rest of the story has problems. It's interesting that the movie never explicitly mentioned Lucas and Jeffrey being twins (Coster-Waldau plays both in a nicely-distinct manner), although it uses the brothers looking alike as a bit of a shortcut to get Victoria to accept him quicker than she might. That's not the only shortcut the screenplay uses, and some of them get frustrating: Dreams are used to push people into place for the finale, an obvious subplot becomes exactly the obvious plot device one would expect, a character states who ghosts are in the movie's mythology for no better reason than somebody needing to. What "Mama" can do at any moment (like whether she comes through the walls or floats) and what motivates her is entirely arbitrary.

Muschietti and company may not have the greatest script, but they're good at getting a jump when one is called for. Most of the best come from assuming a kid is one place only to have her show up in another, so clearly something else must be going on back at the first location, but it's a good trick, often played as vaguely unsettling rather than just a source of blood and guts. Moths may not do much for me, but some of Mama's other manifestations are good and creepy, just stylish enough that what sometimes looks like poor CGI can also appear otherworldly - as random as the finale is in some ways, it's got one or two really remarkably, memorably images. And while the movie never really digs into how much of an impression civilization was able to make on the girls before being abandoned as toddlers in some cases - Victoria seems to tend toward normality without a lot of drama - Muschietti and Isabelle Nélisse seem to have a great time making Lilly downright bizarre and freaky.

In some ways, "Mama" might have been better off just going with the non-supernatural stuff - kids who just don't think like you'd expect can be much creepier than a "Grudge" ghost with lighter hair. The movie has enough creeps and jumps to get a reaction, but isn't quite committed enough to either side of the story to be a really great horror movie.

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originally posted: 01/22/13 14:24:26
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User Comments

8/13/13 mr.mike Requires some patience , but not bad. 4 stars
8/05/13 ALICE very good. Something different... 4 stars
5/19/13 big chicken creepy movie! hold me batman 5 stars
4/29/13 Langano Laughable unoriginal crap 1 stars
1/29/13 Man Out Six Bucks Schizophrenic ghost, stillborn plot devices and inconsistent CGI 3 stars
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  18-Jan-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 07-May-2013


  DVD: 14-May-2013

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