Maybe it’s the arrival of the post spending spree credit card bills, or the lack of sun or a shortage of general goodwill after the holidays. Whatever it is, January can be a dismal time of year even in movie theaters—unless of course you like horror movies.
Tromping out the usual tale of a disembodied spirit who wreaks havoc on the lives of families and the interior walls of their house, the evil stepmother script gets turned on its head in the horror movie Mama. This time it’s the stepchildren who are kind of creepy.
Five years after disappearing, two young girls (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse) are found living in a deserted cabin in the forest. It’s evident a 5-year-old and baby couldn’t have survived on their own, so the only question is: Who else was in the cabin?
Behaving like wild animals when they are rescued, the siblings are put under Dr. Dreyfuss’ (Daniel Kash) care until he deems them fit to live with their Uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Aunt Annabel (Jessica Chastain). Lucas eagerly commits to raising his dead brother’s children. But, Annabel, a tattooed guitarist in a rock band, isn’t so sure she is ready to exchange life on the road for motherhood. She is even less sure when Lucas is rushed to the hospital after inexplicably falling down the stairs. Left alone with the two feral children, Annabel begins to see fleeting shadows and hear strange noises coming from her nieces’ bedroom.
Jessica Chastain (looking remarkably different from her award winning role in Zero Dark Thirty) and the two young actresses (who scurry around the house on all fours, gorge on moths and grunt out inarticulate sounds) do their part to create the eerie atmosphere in the opening scenes of this film. But like so many movies in this genre, the fright factor plummets once we see the ghastly and ghostly Mama. The script also wanders off on unresolved tangents introducing storylines that it fails to follow up. Along with the mandatory jump scenes introduced with screeching stringed instruments are the-to-be-expected elements of dark rooms, flickering lights and blood oozing from the wall. However the depiction of a distraught father readying himself to shoot his child is a disturbing portrayal of domestic violence, especially in a fictional film created strictly for entertainment.
Given the dearth of choices in theaters right now, Mama will likely lure in more than a few viewers. But don’t expect any redeeming qualities from this obsessive maternal apparition. She makes Snow White’s evil stepmother look like a fairy godmother.