Dark instincts

When Mama gets mad, people start dying

Here, kiddie kiddie.

Here, kiddie kiddie.

Starring Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse. Directed by Andrés Muschietti. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 4.0

Mama just killed a man … or two, or three. Because Mama is a supernatural entity who is very protective of a couple of young girls she’s taken under her wing in a spooky ol’ cabin in the woods. Their dad, fresh off a killing spree that has left some co-workers and his estranged wife dead, manages to get what’s left of his family lost in the wilderness. He has more ill intent on tap, but Mama puts a stop to that. Fortunately for the freshly orphaned girls, Mama has some serious nurturing instincts.

But Mama is also very jealous, which later creates some problems for the girls’ real-life Uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and hottie girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) when the children are discovered after spending five years forgetting their social skills. Lucas gets custody, but Annabel isn’t too keen on having her rock-star career path interrupted by taking care of a couple of feral kids. But what the hell are you gonna do?

And she doesn’t even know about Mama (yet), who follows the kids back to civilization and keeps an eye on them from the nursery closet and from under the bed.

Bring in an ambitious doctor (Daniel Kash) and a snooty aunt (Jane Moffat), and the body count starts to add up as Mama does what Mama does best—kill.

Producer Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) is outspokenly a huge fan of old-school horror, with an emphasis on atmosphere and chills rather than gratuitous mayhem and stupid young flesh. And with Argentinean protégé Andrés Muschietti at the helm, they’ve created one very solid homage to that lost art. Muschietti manages a deft mixture of Latin-flavored Gothic atmosphere with a dash of J-horror elements that serves the genre well.

Del Toro has a great eye for talent. Not only did he discover Muschietti (off the short film from which Mama is expanded), but he also scored Chastain before there was talk of her being Oscar material. Too bad she’s likely considered too legit for the genre now—woman has some serious chops as a horror heroine.

The resolution is a li’l soft, otherwise Mama manages to be that up-until-now mythical creature: a PG-13 horror film that manages to be effectively scarier than its R-rated contemporaries.