Based on a 2008 short by the same director, Mama is a ghost story with clear roots in Spanish cinema, twisting the classic story of lost children to focus on the parental bond developed between two abandoned orphans and the (former) person who cares for them. Found five years later, the girls are feral and barely communicative, while Mama, the creature who nurtured them, is unwilling to hand over parental duties to their uncle (Coster-Waldau) and his grungy, unmaternal girlfriend Annabel (Chastain).
Mama is atmospheric and filled with enough effective scares and jumps to distract from several plot holes. The title character is a maternal mass of flowing blackness, with disjointed, horribly uncomfortable movements. She is, however, far more scary when confined to the shadows, or lurking and jerking through walls and closets, than the later CGI creation she becomes in the final scenes. While well executed, Muschietti's feature debut lacks the originality and flair to have much staying power, though it ends on a high with an unexpected, oddly bittersweet conclusion. [Becky Bartlett]