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About 90 percent of the movie 'Mama' worth seeing

Feb. 01, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Not since Sigourney Weaver's Lt. Ellen Ripley channeled protective motherly instincts to rally against evil in the 1986 sequel, "Aliens," has a woman looked so good in a title role.

This year's uberhot commodity, Jessica Chastain ("Zero Dark Thirty," "The Help," "The Tree of Life") stars as Annabel, taking on the delicious banshee, "Mama," in this movie of the same name.

Although Chastain plays a character who, in actuality, should be about 15 years younger, she almost manages to pull that part of it off. A 30-something punk rocker is probably going to look a lot more haggard and time-worn than Annabel does here.

The boyfriend, Jeffrey, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau ("Game of Thrones," "Black Hawk Down," "New Amsterdam") also would have been more realistic with less age, as a bohemian artist/writer (his lifestyle is so vague that I imagine the best part of it is lying somewhere on the cutting room floor).

While Coster-Waldua is relegated to the back burner, Megan Charpentier ("Resident Evil: Retribution," "Red Riding Hood") as Victoria plays much bigger than her size and age as older child, Victoria, one of two lost siblings raised in the wild by a spirit.

This kid is a better actor than most adults that I see weekly on the big screen. She follows a path from lost soul to young innocent to converted daughter in a great series of horrible events that are made almost believable by first time writer/director Andres Muschietti.

Muscheitti hits a home run (almost) with "Mama," only to watch the ball go foul at the last minute. He leads us all the way through the movie, doing everything right, only to have the story dissolve into a murky CGI dream-like sequence, almost cartoonish vision of a Disney witch on a precipitous ledge, threatening a child.

The storyline remains intact, but the visuals are totally bogus.

All in all, it's a very good movie, even with the bad ending, mainly because it is fairly original, well written, with believable dialogue and great acting. And, of course, the Boogeyman!

Every good horror story has to have a great boogeyman, and "Mama" is no exception. She goes bump in the night and first appears in shadows and glimpses, only to jump out and grab you, as any good specter should do.

As her backstory is revealed, she becomes more human, although never truly a sympathetic being. Like last year's "Sinister," the bits and pieces add up beautifully, and when the monster appears, she actually scares you out of your seat.

The fact that she doesn't (usually) jump out and kill at will is one of the things that make her beautiful. She is a fickle ghost, only choosing those certain people and instances to do her thing.

A nice second tier performance is put in by Daniel Kash ("Aliens," "The Tuxedo," "Less Than Kind") as Dr. Dreyfuss, an Adrian Monk lookalike who makes a believable psychiatrist, intent on studying the two girls like laboratory rats, although with more humanity that other scientific types in movies such as this.

Young Isabelle Nelisse ("Mirador") does beautifully as younger child, Lilly, although I wonder if being in a movie like this affects a very young actor/actress as they grow older.

This could very easily have been a horror story version of "Nell," a 1994 film that gave us a first major glimpse of some actor named Liam Neeson. But with Guillermo Del Toro as an executive producer, you just KNOW that it is going to be creepy; and that is the best word to describe this movie. Not scary, but creepy.

Although this one is a "keeper" it still has a few major gaffes. The cabin in the woods is supposed to be old and desolate, yet appears to be mid-'60s modern with interior and furniture from that era. And though the players apparently have to walk miles to get to it, there is a concrete stoop at the front door.

It is as though the set designer found an abandoned interior that he liked and didn't care what the script actually called for.

Another problem was that the script was written for twenty-something slackers, and starred middle-aged yuppies. Both adults looked closer to mid-life crisis than quarter-life angst, and it was evident that neither could play the beatnik lifestyle role very well.

But the worst part was the ending, which made you want to go get a refund.

My recommendation is to go see this movie, and afterward to quickly forget about the last 10 minutes, and remember all of the fun that you had playing with "Mama" before that.

Billy Summers is a freelance photographer who also reviews films for the Putnam Herald. He can be reached at summers855@yahoo.com.