Mama (Rated PG-13) 5 Stars02-06-13-movie.gif

When I heard that Mama (101 minutes) had been pushed from a 2012 release to a 2013 release, I got worried. Unless they are avoiding a Harry Potter movie, when studios start playing with release dates it’s usually a bad sign. See: Red Dawn, World War Z. Happily, this was an exception to a normally reliable rule because Mama was pretty darn good.

Guillermo del Toro, sticking close to his comfort zone, produces a film that is thematically linked to his favorite themes of small, sad children touched by the supernatural. Sitting in the director’s chair is first time director Andre Muschietti, who created the short upon which the feature film is based. He does a fantastic job with the story and he knows how to make creepy kids even creepier. However, I was not in love with the big creature reveal of Mama because CGI tends to look like CGI — horror is much scarier when unrealistic effects are kept in the shadows.

The film opens with an abandoned car. It is 2008, just after the finan-cial crisis, and a man named Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau) has just finished indulging in a killing spree. He takes his children and heads as far from civilization as he can get. Some strange things happen on the way to nowhere in particular, and the children end up alone in a cabin with no supplies.

Time jumps five years forward. A couple of young hipsters are still invested in the case of the missing girls and their dad. Uncle Lucas (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau) lives with Annabel (Jessica Chastain, con-tinuing her quest to appear in every movie released this year), and they get very excited when a couple of mountain men find the girls living in an isolated cabin.

So, much as I like the movie … here’s the thing: I can totally buy into supernatural intervention keeping otherwise helpless children alive; I don’t know if I buy into the cabin going undiscovered for five years since it was in walking distance of the car crash that investigators certainly should have found, but did not. I mean, maybe I’m naïve, but I think when it comes to tracking down a guy that kills a bunch of people and then kidnaps a couple of kids, the police would maybe show a little interest in finding them.

Anyway, mountain men. They find the car crash, find the cabin and find the girls. Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily (Isabel Nelisse) are filthy and fast and creepy and have a tendency to sway as if preparing to pounce. They are brought back to civilization with very little language and few basic skills. Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) turns them into his pet project and suc-cessfully argues that Annabel and Lucas should get custody. Annabel is thrilled. She tries her best, and despite a few growing pains it seems like Uncle Lucas is going to make it work. But then things get creepy.

The girls make surprisingly rapid progress in behaving like civilized children (Victoria more than Lily), and the family moves into a huge home subsidized by Dr. Dreyfuss and filled with recording equipment. Too bad this is a horror movie be-cause of course, things must become horrible. Uncle Lucas falls down the stairs while investigating spooky goings-on, leaving an ill-prepared Annabel to play mommy with two girls who need more attention than she wants to offer.

Overall, this is a solid horror hit that also plays with themes of forgiveness, loss, change and inadequacy. Chastain delivers one of her best efforts and the two kids do a good job with material that would be beyond the years of most children their age. Heads up, in avoiding the obvious clichés the director made sure there was no standard happily ever after Hollywood ending.

Now showing at Wynnsong 7, Carmike 12 and Carmike Market Fair 15.

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