Creepy kids? Angry ghosts? Necks in places they absolutely shouldn’t be? Just when you thought it was safe to look back in your wardrobe, Spanish director Andrés Muschietti’s directorial debut Mama will leave you reaching for the light switch. It is the chilling story of two missing children, found in the woods five years after they were presumed dead. When their estranged Uncle Lucas (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (rising star Jessica Chastain) offer to raise them, a series of disturbing events lead the couple to question just how alone the two girls were in the woods…
At its core, Mama is essentially a haunted house movie, but there is more than enough here to justify the ticket price. Though produced and presented by Mexican monster-whisperer Guillermo Del Toro, Mama is a different beast to his own movies. While it shares the supernatural, slow-burn menace of The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, it adds a healthy dose of pee-your-pants jump scares to create a potent cocktail. Sadly, the effect begins to wear off towards the end of the movie. Films like Mama thrive on fear of the unknown to create suspense. Rinse and repeat scary scenes too often, or worse, commit the heinous crime of over exposing your central monster, and the terror disappears. Mama is guilty of both these horror movie sins.
Thankfully, however, most of the movie is so wonderfully terrifying. The film’s lead actors are excellent and complement each other perfectly, though it is the duo of Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse, as the abandoned kids, that really steal the show. They scuttle like Gollum, scream like banshees and, most terrifying of all, can act! In a genre so often derailed by wooden child stars, Mama’s cast is refreshingly convincing.
Whilst the end of Mama can rely too heavily on horror clichés, the genuinely disturbing opening of the film compensates with aplomb. Clever camera work and suspenseful pacing makes the flesh crawl; if one scene involving a wardrobe and a hideous case of mistaken identity doesn’t make you squirm, you are made of stone.
Overall, Mama is a stylish and shocking ghost story with a top cast and heart pounding scares. No doubt, despite its flaws, it will stay with you for a long time after the credits roll.
Dir. Andrés Muschietti
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse