Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

January 22, 2013

CALLERI: Creeping around with Chastain and 'Mama'

Niagara Gazette — Events in horror movies rarely look as good as what transpires in “Mama,” a less than truly scary take on the classic nurturer of most lives, a person’s mother.

The film opens with a bit of Wall Street insanity, but not the monetary kind. No “greed is good” here. Rather, we get a greed-can-make-you-crazy prologue. We’re many miles away from the Manhattan epicenter of stocks and bonds, which is meant to prove that the economic meltdown of 2008 affected financial workers everywhere.

After a breathless beginning during which a killer slaughters his wife and his business partners, the guy takes his two very young daughters into the woods. Victoria is 3 and Lily is 1. Just as he’s about to shoot the girls and himself, something wicked this way comes. A specter descends upon the cabin.

The film jumps five years. The murderer’s brother, Lucas, who has seemingly spent a small fortune trying to find his nieces, discovers the young girls living a feral existence in primitive conditions in those very same woods and in that very same cabin. The little sisters are frightened, angry and lacking in far too many social skills to mention. Best visual? They skitter about like wind-up creatures.

This unformed childhood development recalls Francois Truffaut’s brilliant “The Wild Child,” a shimmering black and white masterpiece that is certainly more sophisticated than “Mama.” The former exists as a study of human behavior and the latter has been made to creep you out.

“Mama” proceeds as a ghost story with a little bit of Dr. Benjamin Spock thrown in. Victoria and Lily are cleaned up, given proper medical care, and studied by a professional child therapist. After a custody battle involving an aunt, the girls are allowed to move in with their Uncle Lucas in a house provided by the therapist. Now the fun really begins.

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