Mama (2013)

(On Cable TV, February 2015) Mama may not be a spectacular horror film, but it’s a remarkably good one, and the thrills it offers are a cut above the usual run-of-the-mill horror productions.  Focusing on orphaned children, long-lost secrets, flawed protagonists and a distinctive monster, Mama is heavy on atmosphere and has the merit to aim for chills and emotional investment rather than jump-scares and explicit gore.  Writer/director Andrés Muschietti knows what he’s doing, and while nothing in Mama is particularly original, he’s able to wring quite a bit of tension out of familiar elements.  The titular Mama is creepy enough, but it’s the complex interplay of parenthood issues (abandonment, fostering, hesitancy, and so on) that clearly lift the script above the average.  (There’s an element of the conclusion that feels almost daring in transgressing the kids-in-perils clichés.)  It helps that the main role belongs to the captivating Jessica Chastain (notwithstanding the unflattering haircut) and that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau gets a role beyond Game of Thrones.  At a time where old-school horror is making a triumphant comeback, Mama may not be quite as good as Sinister, The Conjuring or Insidious, but it’s worthy to hang with the front-runners of the pack and remind us again that horror isn’t just about how much blood can fit on-screen.  Don’t expect anything startlingly new, though.

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