Isabelle Nélisse (left), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier and Jessica Chastain cry Mama.
MAMA directed by Andy Muschietti, written by Neil Cross, Andy Muschietti and Barbara Muschietti, with Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse. An eOne Films release. 100 minutes. Opens Friday (January 18). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNN
Abducted by their father and left alone in a remote Virginia cabin, two little girls (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse) are found five years later and returned to the care of their uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend (Jessica Chastain), but something else has come back with them.
Expanded from director Andy Muschietti's short film, Mama bears many of executive producer Guillermo del Toro's favourite fairy-tale elements: lost children, unquiet spirits, rational adults suddenly confronted with a primal force in which they'd long stopped believing.
This one's better paced and more consistently involving than del Toro's last attempt, the 2011 remake of Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark, but it's still hampered by a structure that doesn't let anything actually happen until after more than an hour of screen time. (Not that there's anything wrong with a slow build, but Mama essentially requires its characters to sit around and wait to be scared for its entire second act.)
But even when it threatens to bog down, Mama features some effectively slithery images and yet another terrific performance by Chastain, who downplays the supernatural stuff in favour of a flinty, very human turn as a woman trying just a little too hard to put up a punk front while caring for two young girls. Her scenes with Charpentier don't need angry ghosts to generate dramatic tension.