Mama: written by Andy Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti, and Neil Cross; directed by Andy Muschietti; starring Jessica Chastain (Annabel), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Lucas/Jeffrey), Megan Charpentier (Victoria), Isabelle Nelisse (Lily), Daniel Kash (Dr. Dreyfuss) and Javier Botet (Mama) (2013): Produced by Guillermo del Toro, Mama has some of his tropes scattered throughout, most notably the linkage of insects with the supernatural. It’s not the most brilliant of horror movies, as at least two characters do really stupid horror-movie cliche things, and a sub-plot turns out to exist because it makes the main plot run more smoothly towards the end.
On the other hand, the movie looks great. The set design is impressively functional insofar as it’s atmospheric while also serving the plot and not being ridiculous. Jessica Chastain is never less than fully invested in her lead character, almost unrecognizable in a black short-cut wig and raccoon eye make-up. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones) has an oddly thankless dual part as twin brothers, both of whom disappear for the middle of the picture so thoroughly that one wonders if he was called away to do reshoots on that HBO series. And the two little girls do about as good a job of playing semi-feral girls abandoned in the woods for five years as one could ask.
The movie really succeeds or fails, though, on how one feels about the eponymous monster. Or ghost. Or ghost-monster. There are a couple of really nice aspects to the visualization of Mama: her hair perpetually seems to float as if she’s underwater (and metaphorically speaking, she is). And she occasionally comes at people while almost completely submerged in the floor, with only her ghostly hair marking her approach like some ghastly shark’s fin. There’s more imaginative CGI in her creation than in all of Peter Jackson’s last three films put together.
And there are also several imaginatively shot dream/memory sequences from Mama’s standpoint that are seriously disturbing. It would be lovely if as much care had been taken with the story as is taken with the visuals, but at least the movie is neither found-footage nor ‘based on a true story.’ Recommended.