Jessica Chastain is the red hot film actress of the moment. This can largely be attributed to the chameleon-like quality she brings to her roles in never appearing the same way twice. Last year she was a Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for her goodhearted and maligned blonde bombshell Celia Foote in “The Help.” This year she moved to the Best Actress category for her redheaded at first uncertain but ultimately tireless and tough as nails CIA agent in “Zero Dark Thirty.” Now playing alongside that movie, she’s a raven bobbed tattooed rocker thrust into child rearing in “Mama.”
Executive Producer Guillermo del Toro brings us another dark and creepy ghost tale involving children that is as sad as it is scary. This one comes from a 2008 short (available on YouTube). The “Run, she’s coming” scary suspense of the short is duplicated here with a story fleshed out to feature length. Five years after two girls are abducted by their murderous father, they are found as emaciated wild animals in a remote cabin. Their uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend (Chastain) get custody and try to restore their lives. However, a dark and disfigured corporeal ghost with relentless maternal longings wants them for herself.
There are a lot of elements to this movie, no doubt due to having three screenwriters. There’s the father (also played by Coster-Waldau) who murders his business partners and wife before grabbing his kids. There’s the psychiatrist (Daniel Kash) with questionable motives. And then there’s the whole social welfare angle embodied by the cast-as villain Aunt Jean (Jane Moffat). There’s also a lot of imagery involving black moths and a couple of dream sequences thrown in. Not everything is fully explained, yet somehow it all manages to work for the most part.
This is old fashioned bump in the night and jump out of the dark horror fun aided by an effectively pounding score and a refreshing absence of gore. Roanoke movie goers will also be amused by the Richmond suburbs and Clifton Forge settings though it was actually filmed in Canada.