Directed by Andrés Muschietti
Sometimes a movie is so bad, it's good. Sometimes a predictable plot, hokey special effects, and hackneyed cinematic devices are combined in such a way that the resulting effort transcends celluloid shlock and, instead, becomes amusingly awful. Mama, from Pan's Labyrinth producer Guillermo del Toro, achieves this admirably.
Scary movies (Mama is no horror) always run the risk of falling into this category, and to be fair, Mama starts off well enough: A successful young father snaps, kills his wife, and makes off with his two darling daughters to an abandoned cabin in the woods. We give director Andrés Muschietti the benefit of the doubt when the father is poised to snuff out the little girls' young lives. We wait with bated breath as he trains a gun on his daughter's head-not so much because of the tension onscreen but in anticipation of the invariable intervention. We hope that Muschietti plays it subtle, keeps to the psychological and mysterious.
Mama obliterates that hope with her debut, along with the deranged dad. In all her unhinged, CGI-compelled motion, Mama (Javier Botet, who has a distinctly male jawline) receives extended snatches of screentime. She hovers. She crawls. She melts into walls and floors. The creature (ghost?) is preposterous: the antithesis of subtlety, gruesome with special-effects detail.
Mama becomes the guardian of the lost girls (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse), who spend five years in the woods before their hip, artsy-yet oddly dutiful-uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) more or less finds them. (He hires someone else to do it.) The girls have some quirks, as one might expect. After a short-lived custody battle with the girls' aunt, Uncle Lucas cajoles his smoky eyed, bass-playing girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain), to forsake her rock band, move to the suburbs, and mother the feral children. But it's soon evident that Mama knows how to navigate to the 'burbs.
Chastain (slumming it after her performance in Zero Dark Thirty) is the best thing in Mama, as an nonplussed surrogate parent who eyes the girls skeptically for most of the movie. The movie delivers some solid frights, but the jumble of bizarre The Ring-esque scare tactics and over-the-top screenwriting make it predominantly comical.
Mama is not to be watched in solitude; it is decidedly movie-theater fare, affording you the chance to commune with others through the sudden jolts and the belly laughs the movie elicits. And for 100 minutes' worth of fellow feeling, the cost of a ticket seems fair.