Guillermo del Toro dons his executive producer hat once again, helping first-time writer-director Andres Muschetti adapt his 2008 short film into a feature. Shot in Canada, Mama tells the story of two young girls, abandoned in the woods, who are raised by a mysterious, possibly imaginary mother figure, whom they call “Mama”. When they are eventually rescued and taken in by their Uncle Luke (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his rock-chick girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain), the girls struggle to adapt to their new domestic surroundings – and it soon becomes apparent that “Mama” has followed them home.
There are numerous genuine scares throughout Mama, and Muschetti does a solid job of building tension and staging scary moments. Too many of the surprises, however, rely on loud sound cues, which are mostly unnecessary, while the CG-rendered antagonist would have been far more effective in a more tangible, dirty form. Characters are rather thinly developed, despite plenty of potential to explore Mama’s backstory, the girls’ relationship with Annabel, as well as her central arc from independent spirit to responsible mother.
As a result, Mama feels somewhat lacking in substance, and builds towards a relatively unsatisfying conclusion, which is a shame, as its horror elements work very well, and a number of the late-night creepy set pieces are guaranteed to have you cowering in fear and peeking through your fingers – which at the end of the day, is why we bought our tickets in the first place.