Following a market crash, Jeffrey (Coster-Waldau) goes on the rampage, killing his wife and business partners before taking daughters Victoria and Lilly to a forsaken cabin in the woods to finish them and himself off. But something stops him in the nick of time.
Five years later, cool uncle Lucas (Coster-Waldau again) and rocker chick girlfriend Annabel (Chastain) find the (now-feral) orphans and move out of their apartment to rehabilitate them.
But the girls are still haunted by mama, the spindly creature who kept them alive with wind-fallen cherries. The specter of hitchcock looms large over Mama with Psycho’s twisted, cadaverous mother figure and the repeated trauma trope borrowed from Vertigo. But the Guillermo del Toro-produced, Andrés Muschietti-directed film plays it by the book. Teased from a short into a feature, it has all the hokey clichés – flitting shadows, ghosts from the past and hapless innocents needlessly visiting isolated cabins at night.
And while the leads can’t save the lifeless dialogue (let’s not mention Chastain’s wan rock guitarist), the dream sequences, recalling jerky expressionism and 1970s giallo, maintain a cinematic charm. Embodying our fears of parenting and adoption, Mama reaches for Rosemary’s Baby or The Innocents but settles instead for horror by numbers.
Mama | Directed by Andrés Muschietti (USA 2013) with Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Starts April 18