By Christopher Lloyd
“Mama” is an environmentally creepy horror flick that features plenty of boo-gotcha scares, but also takes the time to build a pervasive feeling of dread. Rated PG-13, it’s not a particularly gory flick, though it contains a lot of disturbing CGI effects that add to the eerie atmosphere.
The set-up is two small girls who were abducted and lost in the woods following a tragedy. Five years later, their uncle tracks them down and adopts them. The sisters (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse, both very good) barely speak and go about on all fours like feral animals. But over time they start to reassimilate, even warming up to their uncle’s girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain), a rock musician who gradually develops maternal instincts.
Unfortunately, the girls weren’t really alone all those years out in the forest, developing an obsessive attachment with a spectral creature they call “mama.” It soon becomes clear she has followed her wards to their new home.
Director Andrés Muschietti is a feature film rookie who co-wrote the screenplay with his sister, Barbara Muschietti, and Neill Cross, based on a short film they made a few years ago. It’s an auspicious debut from filmmakers who know to balance organic frights with special effects.