A grave custody battle in the very scary Mama

January 19, 2013

from Indy Week

For several years now, I’ve held the considered opinion that Jessica Chastain is the single most beautiful creature on the planet. Now I know the truth: Jessica Chastain dressed as a goth rocker is the most beautiful creature on the planet.

mamaChastain’s lovely performance regularly elevates Mama, the very effective new paranormal thriller from producer Guillermo del Toro and first-time director Andrés Muschietti. Fans of del Toro’s previous horror movies (The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth) will recognize his sensibilities all over this thing.

The film opens with a disturbing scene. A distraught father, who has apparently just killed his wife, speeds off in a car with his two little girls. The car crashes and dad leads the kids to a creepy old cabin in the woods. Some very scary things happen, dad doesn’t make it, then we flash forward five years.

The girls, now age nine and six, are finally discovered — still in the cabin and living like feral cats. Actually, the way they skitter around on all fours is more insect-like and this is the first of the many, many disquieting images director Muschietti has in store.

The girls are eventually adopted by their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jaime Lannister to you Game of Thrones fans). Lucas’ girlfriend Annabel (Chastain) isn’t crazy about raising two untamed forest kids. But she becomes more agreeable when the local research institute offers a beautiful rent-free home, in exchange for permission to study the kids.

It soon becomes apparent that the little girls have brought a companion with them, a maternal yet decidedly terrifying presence from the other side of the grave. This is Mama. She’s been looking after the kids for years and is none too happy with the new custody situation.

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