They're eventually discovered in a filthy, feral state, and Jeff's twin brother (Coster-Waldau) gains custody, moving the girls -- 8-year-old Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and 6-year-old Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) -- into the home he shares with his girlfriend (and reluctant mother) Annabel (Jessica Chastain). As the children try to adapt to the civilized world, it becomes evident that the spirit, who they dub "Mama," has followed them and has no intentions of letting their new guardians take her kids away from her.
The End Result
Don't let the talk of drama discount how potent Mama is as a horror movie, though. It's creepy with a capital "C" -- perhaps the scariest ghost movie since Insidious -- thanks to wonderfully grotesque creature design (played, incidentally, by the same guy who made the Niña Medeiros character in REC so memorable), jarring sound effects and assured direction from Spanish newcomer Andrés Muschietti. Maybe there is a little too much focus on cheap jump scares, but more often than not, Muschietti sets up an executes the fright scenes with a deft, non-exploitive touch.
The script, however, could be a bit tighter to eliminate some vagueness and to deliver more on some story elements that are introduced and then wither with minimal impact. Still, while not wholly original, it's a fresher take on the haunted house genre than we're usually privy to, carrying with it both a sense of humanity and a bold, dark edge that reminds us that life can be cruel.
- Acting: B (Excellent, heartbreaking performances from the child stars.)
- Direction: B+ (Conveys both horror and drama with deeply penetrating impact.)
- Script: C+ (Uncompromising and melancholy with some missed opportunities.)
- Gore/Effects: B (Not much gore is warranted; great character design and great "wild child" effects.)
- Overall: B (Unusually dramatic, emotional genre fare with some creepy and stunning visuals.)
Mama is directed by Andrés Muschietti and is rated R by the MPAAvfor violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements. Release date: January 18, 2013.