I was primarily interested in this film due to the involvement of Guillermo Del Toro, but came away from it pretty underwhelmed. Mama is a pretty ordinary ghost story, a sort of fusion of the type commonly made in the 70s and the J-horror ghost stories that Hollywood embraced for a while a decade ago. It is the tale of two young girls who are taken to a cabin in the middle of nowhere by their father, who is on the run after a killing spree at his office. He has already killed his wife and is about to shoot one of his daughters when something yanks him into the air and breaks his neck, saving the girls’ lives.
That something is Mama, the ghost of a woman who died running from a mental hospital with her baby. She cares for the girls in the cabin for five years, providing cherries and small animals to eat. When the girls are finally found in a feral state, they are studied by a psychiatrist with suspicious motives and released into the care of their good-hearted but poor uncle and his girlfriend (Jessica Chastain), over the objections of a wealthy aunt. Mama is able to travel from the cabin to the house provided by the psychiatrist for the girls’ care and observation, and jealously strikes out at anyone who tries to love them. When their uncle is put into a coma, Jessica Chastain finds herself with the unwanted and often unpleasant job of caring for the haunted children.
I feel like this movie might have wanted to say something about the nature of parenthood, step-parents, other caregivers, and childhood trauma; but in the end it is too busy blowing the special effects budget on Mama leaping out of things and screaming booga-booga to say anything coherent. This film is at is best when Mama is not on screen at all.