"Mama" would have been good for a few scares if the biggest plot point made even a tiny bit of sense.
Director Andrés Muschietti's horror film looks at what happens when two small girls spend five years in the forest being raised by a spectre. How they got there is a jumble. It has something to do with the stock market disaster, murder and divorce. Considering that most of the movie has such a slow pace, it would have been nice if Muschietti set up the story.
When the two girls (Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse) finally are discovered, they are closer to wild beasts than humans. It's going to take a loving touch by their uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his rock band girlfriend (Jessica Chastain) to help them find their way back to a more socially acceptable life. That task is made more difficult by a ghost -- the girls lovingly call Mama -- who joins them on their journey.
"Mama" is full of scenes with dark corners and passages where the twisted creature can pop out. Because the moments occur so readily, they become predictable. It doesn't help that in some places the ghost -- who has a mane of wild hair -- drifts along under the floor. When her hair is the only thing showing, it looks like an attack by the worst dust bunny in history.
All of this might have been overlooked if the key plot point could have been taken care of in the first five minutes. The ghost is hanging around because she's got some unfinished business that can only be wrapped up with the help of a child. But once the ghost has the children, she doesn't complete her spectral mission but instead becomes a twisted nursemaid to the pair. It's only when others show attention to the girls -- and the production is long enough to be considered a feature-length film -- that it dawns on Mama she's got a job to do.
Films that put children in peril are always tricky, a point filmmakers need to be even more aware of in the wake of recent real world shootings. There's a scene with one of the young girls and a gun that should have been changed or omitted.
And, the ending will be unsatisfying to some.
The only real positive of "Mama" is that it gives Chastain a very different role to play. Too bad it had to be in a film that is so poorly written it could have been wrapped up in less time than it takes to boil a three-minute egg.
"Mama," rated PG-13 for language, scary moments, violence. Stars Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse. Directed by Andrés Muschietti. Running time: 97 minutes. Grade: D+ Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic RickBentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.