GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Lifestyle

January 24, 2013

'Mama' a better-than-usual ghost story

Jessica Chastain looks like Joan Jett in “Mama” — short black hair, tattooed, a rock ‘n’ roller who hangs up her studded belt to become surrogate mother to a pair of deeply traumatized little girls.

An effectively spooky ghost story with Guillermo del Toro’s imprimatur (he’s executive producer), “Mama” is every adoptive parent’s nightmare: What if the children you bring home start eating moths and toilet paper, and won’t come out from under the bed? And when they do, it’s only to do something hurtful?

Directed by Andy Muschietti, a maker of commercials in Spain, and vastly expanded from a three-minute short he and his sister made five years ago (you can find it on YouTube), “Mama” is skillfully assembled and cast with a better caliber of actor than this tried-and-true scare fare typically attracts.

Chastain, up for an Oscar for her work as an obsessed CIA officer in “Zero Dark Thirty,” anchors the film as Annabel, the bassist in an all-girl band. She lives with Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a freelance illustrator. Kids are the last thing these two want.

But five years earlier, in a chilling pre-titles sequence, Lucas’ brother, Jeffrey (also Coster-Waldau), went postal, killing co-workers and killing his wife. He takes his daughters and heads for the snowy woods, and to a cabin marked “Helvecia.” The house, furnished in midcentury modern that’s to die for, fronts onto a lake. If it weren’t for the rats, the strange stains on the walls, and the creepily double-jointed, wraithlike figure with the long flowing hair and the fingers like tree branches, it’d be an idyllic place to hide.

As it turns out, this creature — first seen in shadowy, nano-second shots — is Muschietti’s title character. Hers is a long and winding backstory, with stops at a Victorian-era insane asylum, but ever since Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) arrived at the cabin, she has been like a mother to the girls, feeding them cherries, and apparently feeding them a lot of dark stuff about life.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Lifestyle

Your news, your way
Pictures of the Week
Comments Tracker
AP Entertainment Videos
Adam Levine Launches Clothing Line for Women Paul Wesley Sinks His Teeth Into Directing Chelsea Clinton Is Pregnant Josh Thompson Streams Album to Hook New Fans Franco Leads Star-studded Broadway Cast ShowBiz Minute: Singer, Young, Poehler Sparks Fly With Derulo and Jordin on New Album Nas Movie Opens Tribeca Film Festival Zooey Deschanel Adds Designing to Her Repertoire Miley Cyrus Still in Hospital, Cancels 2nd Show 'Half of a Yellow Sun' Hits the Big Screen Diaz Gets Physical for New Comedy Swift's Bus Drives Into Country Hall of Fame ShowBiz Minute: Cyrus, Walker, Combs Pedro Pascal Plays 'Game of Thrones'' Red Viper Deeley Shows Acting Chops in Hulu's 'Deadbeat' Ora Strips Efron at MTV Awards ShowBiz Minute: MTV Awards, Lopez, Royals Stars Hit Red Carpet for MTV Movie Awards Conan Backs Colbert, Hosts MTV Movie Awards