Jessica Chastain in Horror Film, 'MAMA" Hits All The Spooky Notes – Review

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Film maker, Guillermo del Toro, as Producer for new horror film, Mama delivers a solid film without over the top gore, and an original story featuring another great performance from Academy Award Nominated Jessica Chastain as Annabel.

Two young girls, Lily (Isabelle Nélisse) and Victoria (Megan Charpentier), are left alone to survive in a remote cabin after their parents die tragically. After being found several years later, and in a feral state, the girls appear to be OK but understandably changed. How exactly have they survived and who has been taking care of them? The answer is MaMa. What will She do next, is the essence of the story and what will keep you on the edge of your seat for a solid hundred minutes.

Horror film and mass appeal do not easily go hand-in-hand in the movie industry. The genre often births films that rely on over-the-top gore, weak stories, and B-list actors which rarely achieve much success at the box office or with critics. MaMa on the other hand goes for an edgier scare by employing old-style suspenseful storytelling with modern special effects that rely less on gore and more on sound, shadows, and peeks at a spooky nemesis. With a PG-13 rating the film should do quite well at the box office opening this weekend.

On the acting side, expertly cast are kids that can actually act, Nélisse and Charpentier crawl around crablike creating eerie expressions that are unsettling and unnatural; And A-list actress, Chastain, who brings the same commitment to this role as her Academy Award Nominated role in Zero Dark Thirty.

Motherly instinct finally kicks in for Anabel and Lily.

Chastain plays base guitar in a punkish girl band, sporting black dyed hair, tats, and the lifestyle to match as she becomes the barely willing step-mother to the girls. After a turn of events, and her boyfriend, the uncle to the girls (actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who plays a dual role as the father (in the first few scenes) winds up in the hospital, it’s up to Chastain to care for the twosome. She makes a go of it despite being out of her depth trying unsuccessfully to tuck the girls into bed and feeding them canned food. When Lily goes wandering out into the cold and is found by Chastain the moment between both characters, one doesn’t know how to be a little girl with a real Mom, and the other who doesn’t know how to be a Mom to a little girl, evokes the bond between both. It’s this sort of scene that adds weight and depth to the story and would not work without talented actors such as the two. Characters in genre Horror films often have no substance and viewers rarely have much opportunity to connect with them. Chastain’s portrayal lends the kind of depth that gets the audience involved and caring.

The adorable film maker and Executive Producer, Guillermo del Toro, gets it right this time working with first time director, Andrés Muschietti. Unlike Del Toro’s film Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, from 2010 starring Katie Holmes which started out strong and ended flat, MaMa has even pacing, with well-timed suspenseful scenes, and a well-thought out ending.

Guillermo del Toro is known for giving every day people who want to work in film the opportunity. Every year he finds new talent and stands behind them in helping them realize their dreams of working in the film industry. He supports them while working on his own projects. MaMa is an example of how someone who has made it in Hollywood opens the door to new talent such as Muschietti helping him get this film made. Del Toro in person is especially funny and humble. His many appearances at Comic Con – Intl every year have demonstrated his commitment to film making and his fans. His upcoming film from Legendary, Pacific Rim, should be a lot of popcorn fun.

MaMa has it’s scary moments and the PG/13 rating seems appropriate. Especially impressive acting from the young girls alongside Chastain deliver a well rounded, spooky film that even has a few moments of giggling. Look for the floating and traveling hair that crawls along the floor near the end. Highly enjoyable fun without the gore.

B

For more on the film, watch the short that Muschietti created several years ago that the film is based on.

 

 

 

Opens: Jan. 18 (Universal)

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Carpenter, Isabelle Nelisse, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet
Director: Andy Muschietti
Screenwriters: Neil Cross, Andy Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti, story by Andy Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti
Producers: J. Miles Dale, Barbara Muschietti
Executive producer: Guillermo del Toro
Production Companies: De Milo Productions, Toma 78
Director of photography: Antonio Riestra
Production designer: Anastasia Masaro
Costume designer: Luis Sequeira
Editor: Michele Conroy
Music: Fernando Velazquez
PG-13 rating, 101 minutes

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