‘Mama’ Starring Jessica Chastain Scares Up Praise From Critics

 @Justine__Ashley
on January 18 2013 4:51 PM

Audiences looking to head to the theater for some popcorn-friendly fare this weekend are in luck. “Mama,” which will no doubt appeal to a wide range of audiences, is earning decent reviews.

The old fashion-style horror flick centers on a couple (Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who care for their orphaned nieces after they are discovered in the wilderness. As the two try to help the girls become accustomed to a civilized living environment, they realize an eerie supernatural force is protecting them.

“Mama” is based on Andrés Muschietti’s 2008 Spanish short film of the same name.

Muschietti serves as the feature film’s director and co-wrote the script with his sister Barbara Muschietti and Neil Coss.

Guillermo del Toro, who directed the Oscar-winning “Pan’s Labyrinth,” executive produced “Mama” and is one of the main reasons audiences will be drawn to the film.

David Edelstein of NPR calls the film “a good old-fashioned ghost story, shapely and poetic, beautifully fashioned. And scary -- let's not forget scary.”

Vulture says the film presents “a welcome jolt of meaningful scares” and calls the ghostly presence referred to as “Mama” “one of modern cinema’s eeriest, a spidery thing with a face that’s a dry-rotted mask of pain and rage.”

Leah Rozen of The Wrap calls the film’s conclusion the “most affecting and effective parts of ‘Mama.’"

Surprisingly, Rozen isn’t a fan of Chastain’s performance. The Oscar-nominated star is currently earning raves for her performance in “Zero Dark Thirty” and is considered one of the most talented breakout stars in recent years.

Rozen believes the actress misses the mark as the non-maternal rocker chick Annabel.

“Her performance as Annabel, while adequate, fails to flesh out what feels like a woefully underwritten character,” she said.

Rob Hunter of Film School Rejects also finds her performance unimpressive and gives the overall film a C-.

“The movie is being sold on producer Guillermo Del Toro‘s name, which is odd seeing as it stars one of the most acclaimed actresses of the year …,” he said. “To be fair, Chastain doesn’t do anything here that would make you think she was an Academy Award contender. The real problem though is that it’s continuing to dilute the ‘Del Toro’ brand. He’s not there yet, but another one or two duds like this and he may as well change his name to “Wes Craven presents.”

By contrast, New York Times critic Manohla Dargis thinks Chastain is impressive in the role.

“Ms. Chastain and her excellent child co-stars, an intensely matched set, embody their characters with soulful believability, whether they’re working together or creeping along a hallway solo,” Dargis said.

She also points out that “Mama” is far from a trivial or grotesque horror film in that it’s both atmospheric and picturesque.  

“Instead of delivering buckets of guts and gore,” she said, “this ghost story offers a strong sense of time and place, along with the kind of niceties that don’t often figure into horror flicks, notably pictorial beauty, an atmosphere throbbing with dread and actors so good that you don’t want anyone to take an ax to them.”

Scott Mendelson of the Huffington Post believes that the film is “a horrifying psychological drama trapped inside a mostly routine ghost story,” but he commends the film’s distinct premise.

In a sea of remakes and franchise reboots, it is indeed admirable that "Mama" attempts to tell an original horror story, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that it's often quite creepy. But the real-world horror that we are presented with is actually scarier and far more disturbing than the supernatural elements at play, which puts the viewer in an odd position of wanting less horror and more drama.”

The film currently has a 62% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is being touted as this weekend’s possible box office winner -- making Chastain a top grossing star for the second week in a row.

“Zero Dark Thirty” took in $24 million last weekend after its theatrical release was expanded.

“Mama” is currently in theaters.

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