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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Mama | Jessica Chastain, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, Daniel Kash | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Mama | Jessica Chastain, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, Daniel Kash | Review


Two little girls, aged three and one, disappear in the midst of a parent-involved tragedy and are discovered five years later living like feral animals in a deserted cabin. How did they survive and who (or what) took care of them?

The mystery continues as their uncle Lucas (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) assume custody of the girls, eight-year-old Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and six-year-old Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) even though the rock musician wannabes seems ill-equipped to care for them.

A strange and sinister force has followed the siblings to their new home. The entity, called “Mama” by the girls, is protective, but jealous and vengeful of anyone showing affection to them. Mama stays hidden from anyone but Victoria and Lilly, but makes her presence known to others in murderous ways.

Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) the girls’ therapist, tries to hypnotize Victoria, and records the chilling results. He’s got his own reasons for researching the case.

Younger sister Lilly, sometimes more animal than human, happily interacts with Mama, sharing secrets that include aerial play and large moths. Annabel is left alone with the girls after Lucas has an unfortunate Mama-based accident that puts him in the hospital. As she slowly uncovers the secret about what happened to the girls, and their supernatural caretaker, life in the house becomes more dangerous than ever because of Annabel’s gradual bond with the two. Mama no like.

Jessica Chastain tries her best, but is miscast as the tattooed rocker Annabel.  She’s still good for a mighty scream or two. Nicolaj Coster-Waldau has few scenes to establish him as an important character, and Daniel Kash’s Dr. Dreyfuss is unremarkable but necessary to case history. Nearly all supernatural tales have some kind of professional to throw theories around or harbor background information.

The juvenile actresses are marvelous, though, with Megan Charpentier throwing scared but knowing looks to the side, to the ceiling, and behind whoever she’s addressing. Isabelle Nélisse is mesmerizing as the near-feral Lilly and is called upon to display a monumental range of emotions.

First-time director/screenwriter Andres Muschietti bears the mark of producer Guillermo Del Toro’s influence by wisely showing, not telling in crucial scenes – garnering skillful, surprising, and sometimes unnerving results. Then there is what I called the alternate happy ending, not everyone’s cup o’ tea, but fascinating when it works (Pan’s Labyrinth).

There are genuinely creepy moments throughout Mama, a stylish looking film that holds the viewer in its taut, suspenseful grip. Unfortunately, it loses emotional steam toward the end, as is sometimes the case when a compelling plot’s tragic history is revealed. Sometimes you just want to stay scared. When you are, Mama works, (as it mostly does) at being an effective horror story. When there are no more secrets, the interest wanes along with the terror, and in the end Mama loses custody of her viewers.


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