Even though 'Mama' employs old gags aplenty, it still managed to spook us silly. What Andres Muschietti's film lacks in originality, it more than makes up for with terrifying (but oddly beautiful) visuals and great performances by the child actors.
What's it about?
Driven by depression, a father murders his wife, business partners and then whisks away his three-year-old Victoria and infant Lilly. They seek refuge in an abandoned cabin and just before Victoria's father pulls the trigger on her, he's dragged away and killed by the ghost that haunts the house. Five years later, the girls are found alive and are taken in by their father's brother Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain). Annabel's hardly the motherly sort but is forced to put her parenting apprehensions aside after Lucas suffers a mysterious fall. Soon, the children's odd behaviour and incidents at home convince Annabel that 'Mama' is something more than just the girls' imaginary friend.
There's little that's novel about children who can see ghosts, homes where things go bump in the night and a protagonist struggling to protect her wards from a female demon. However in 'Mama', the children genuinely look scary, instead of just sullen. The character of Victoria (Megan Charpentier) in particular, has far more to do than just look like she's on the verge of throwing a tantrum.
What Muschietti is fantastic at doing is building up tension before he finally peeks out from behind the corner and says 'Boo!'. The opening credits, where the girls' story after their father's death is told in a series of drawings, is as brilliant as it is eerie. And as for 'Mama', she doesn't look very different from her British ('The Woman In Black') and Japanese ('Ringu') cousins but when she throws her arms wide open, expecting a hug, you'll want to be running as fast as you can - in the opposite direction.
What to do?
'Mama' may well be old wine in a new bottle, but we found ourselves pleasantly surprised and not a little spooked. Go watch it.
in.com rating: 3.5/5
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