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"Mama": Less Scary Than a Call From Mom 

Wednesday, Jan 16 2013

A chiller about two abandoned little girls and their bond to the wraith of the title, Mama never delivers the primal terror its premise would suggest. Instead, the movie — the first feature by Andy Muschietti — distracts with too much foolishness, namely Jessica Chastain plucking a bass guitar in a jet-black pageboy wig, tattoo sleeve, and Misfits T-shirt. Chastain plays Annabel, a goth rocker whose boyfriend Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau ) is the uncle of the filthy, feral girls, who are protected by their Mama, a cadaverous, shape-shifting creature. Annabel and Lucas take the girls in, and they settle with their new charges in Richmond, Va., here a bunch of bland suburban streets and a copse played by the province of Quebec. They try to adjust, yet they retain their tie to Mama, threatened by these new caretakers. (The possessive specter is performed, with CGI trickery, by 7-foot-tall ectomorph Javier Botet.) Muschietti's movie needs more emotions bent out of shape. Lucas and Annabel display not a trace of apprehension — or disgust — when they become the guardians of these bestial little girls. Lucas' "Hey, I love you, girl" soothes any rough patches between the two new parents. Instead, the unwieldiness is played out in the plot contrivances, confusing machinations involving custody battles, convenient comas, stolen computer files, and directives delivered in dreams to go to Clifton Forge and other place-names straight out of the Bobbie Gentry songbook. The rich mine of (human) parental anxieties left virtually unexplored, Mama does at least feature intriguing, complex performances from its young stars, Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse.

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Melissa Anderson


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