"Mama" breaks a lot of horror movie rules, right off the proverbial bat.
It gives us a long back-story opening, and brings up much more back story as the tale progresses.
It overexplains. It reveals its supernatural menace, not just in glimpses, but full on, and early on. There's never any idea that this might be all in somebody's head.
But "Mama" is a reminder that the best chills don't involve chain saws, blood and guts. Horror is a product of empathy — in this case, fearing for the safety of small children and the 20-something rock musician (Jessica Chastain) reluctantly stuck with caring for them.
A prologue tells us of a tragedy. A distraught father (
Cut to five years later, and searchers finally find the girls. They're feral, nonverbal, skittering around on all fours like rats. Their artist uncle, Lucas (also Coster-Waldau), is ready to take them in. His bass-playing girlfriend, Annabel (Chastain), is not.
"Don't call me that," she says with a smile when Victoria (Megan Charpentier) calls her mom. She's not. "This isn't my job," she tells Lucas.
But thanks to financial arrangements made by the conniving psychotherapist (
Thanks to whatever kept them alive for five years in the woods, that's not going to be easy.
And Chastain, far from slumming in a horror film just as she's fighting for that
Horror is all about the short circuit that the screen's technical manipulations — music, editing — cause in our brain, so this isn't high art. But "Mama" is easily the most moving, most chilling ghost story since