MAMA (director/writer: Andy Muschietti; screenwriters: Neil Cross/Barbara Muschietti/based on the short film by the Muschiettis; cinematographer: Antonio Riestra; editor: Michele Conroy; music: Fernando Velázquez; cast: Jessica Chastain (Annabel), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Lucas/Jeffrey), Megan Charpentier (Victoria), Isabelle Nélisse (Lilly), Javier Botet (Mama), Jane Moffat (Jean Podolski, voice of mama), Daniel Kash (Dr. Dreyfuss); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: J. Miles Dale/Barbara. Muschietti; Universal Pictures; 2013-Spain/Canada-in English)

"Genuinely creepy, well-crafted, but after a fine setup it degenerates into a cheesy supernatural thriller."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Genuinely creepy, well-crafted and visually pleasing, but after a fine setup it degenerates into a cheesy supernatural thriller. First-time director Andy Muschietti directs and Barbara Muschietti co-writes with her sibling the story, and the siblings co-write the screenplay with Neil Cross. The executive producer is Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth").

In the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia, the mother of the bespectacled 5-year-old Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and 1-year-old Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) is murdered at the workplace by her crazed investment firm executive hubby Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who in a panic flees with the frightened kiddies in his car and heads to the mountains. On a snowy road he goes into a skid while speeding and the damaged car lands in the woods. The three survive the crash unhurt and find shelter in a secluded cabin by a lake in the woods. Before you can say mama, there appears a sorry excuse for mama-- a flying ghost sporting a messy swirl of brown hair and dressed in rags (Javier Botet, 7-foot-tall Spanish actor). Called mama by the kiddies, she intervenes and stops their daddy from killing them in a murder-suicide and finishes off the deranged monster dad. The girls vanish for five years, but their Uncle Lucas (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) hires private investigators to continue searching for his missing nieces. The feral youngsters are found and it's discovered they somehow survived through mysterious circumstances. The struggling art illustrator Nikolaj and his rock band live-in girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) adopt the girls with the support of research psychiatrist, Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash), who believes the girls survived by creating an imaginary female protector they called mama. Dr. Dreyfuss' institute allows the struggling couple to move into a big house and as part of the bargain has free access to study the girls. In the new house, a supernatural force appears to be protecting the girls and threatening the lives of their new competing parents. Mysteriously doors open, shocks happen, screams jolt the household, scary dolls are made by the girls, moths and web-like patterns suddenly appear on the walls and eerie noises emanate for no reason. Scary stuff that take the pic into the ridiculous, where it never recovers. The reluctant mother Annabel is made out to be an unfit mother who is too punk rock to care about kids, but who predictably comes around to show she has some good maternal instincts. Meanwhile a rigid one-dimensional great aunt (Jane Moffat) is the earthbound heavy, trying to get the family court to give her control of the children because she lives a conventional life.

The ghost story from the mid-point on become increasingly tedious, but the outlandish climax is what totally ruined the other-world experience for me. The climax offers an unimpressive explanation of who this mama character is and why she materialized. The slick ghost story with tacky implausible answers offers some scares without being a gross-out gory horror pic, that some mainstream viewers will appreciate. But, for me, all the special effects are cheapened by how loudly they are materialized and used in the same mindless way as would an Abbott and Costello pic to convey scary ghosts.

REVIEWED ON 1/1/2013       GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"