The haunting tale of two little girls who disappeared into the woods the day that their parents were killed. When they are rescued years later and begin a new life with their uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend (Jessica Chastain), they find that someone or something still wants to come tuck them in at night.
What we thought:
What you don't know or don't understand is what scares you.
It's why classics like Alien and Halloween worked and it's a rule that, for much of its running time, Mama steadfastly adheres to.
Not for this film the frenetic editing, self-conscious shots that fly through windows or a forced abundance of gore. Oh no. Mama harkens back to the more old school, traditional style of horror movie storytelling, one that relies on a good yarn, pacing and creepy sound design.
How traditional? The ol' "Is There Something Hiding In The Cupboard" routine is even trotted out (and fans will be happy to know that there's still fire in the old girl yet). This all works to delicious effect.
Director Andrés Muschietti really knows how to turn the screws. Building a tense scene is about hinting at what might be waiting in the dark, then letting that suggestion percolate in the minds of the audience. It's a tactic that Mama employs to marvelous effect for much of it's run time.
The film is helped by a script that offers up some fun set-pieces even as it drip feeds its story to the audience. Of the cast, only Jessica Chastain along with Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse as the two creepy little girls makes an impression. It's been a while since I've seen a film with kids that are properly creepy (usually they just stare out of the screen as if it's been weeks since they've last had sugar). These kids, particularly Nelisse as Lilly, the younger of the two sisters, managed to properly get under my skin.
Chastian gets another opportunity to show why she's an actress to keep an eye out for and her character is the only one who sees a true arc from beginning to end. Unfortunately, come the third act, Mama dispenses with the tension that was so tightly drawn out for most of the film, and the film starts to give more answers than it withholds.
Overall, this is a fun film, one that aims for classic scares and suspense, and largely achieves that. It's just a pity about the ending which jettisons the tension that made it such a compelling watch for most of its runtime.