Mothers in movies are often portrayed as warm, loving nurturers, unless the movie is produced by horror meister Guillermo Del Toro. In “Mama,” a new supernatural thriller starring Jessica Chastain, the title character is a vengeful spirit, more Mommie Dearest than Mother Goose.
“Mama” begins with the meltdown of a businessman who kills his partners, his ex-wife and kidnaps his two small kids, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily (Isabelle Nélisse) Desange, (rhymes with derange), taking them to a remote cabin in the woods. The first clue that something ghostly is going on comes when little Victoria says, “Daddy, there’s a woman outside and she’s not touching the floor!”
Soon Dada is out of the picture and the girls are presumed missing by everyone except their Uncle Luke (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who spends five years searching for them. When they’re found they’re worse for wear—feral kids who have survived with the help of a supernatural nanny they call Mama. Uncle Luke and Aunt Annabelle (Chastain) try to give them a normal life, but Mama is still a nightmare.
The people you expect in this kind of movie—the expert, the meddler, the spooky record clerk who knows more about the supernatural than the average person (“A ghost is an emotion bent out of shape… looking to right a wrong.”)—are all present and they do the things people do in these kinds of movies—explore remote haunted places at night with only a flashlight for protection, and stare creepily into space.
So no surprises there, but “Mama” does have some nice subtle creepy reveals—all is not what it appears to be—a vivid dream sequence and, of course, the ethereal Mama, who occasionally resembles a giant hairball on the floor, but is eerie nonetheless.
“Mama” is spooky rather than scary, but has appropriately creepy kids—the little one even scurries around the floor on all fours like a tiny silverback gorilla—and enough jolts to earn a recommend.