[The movie] has more integrity than its creepshow peers. The story basically comes down to a dead-looking woman who doesn't want to be a mother fighting for parental custody against a long-dead woman who does. (Grad students, start your theses.)
There's something eerily effective about juxtaposing childhood innocence with the violent, the supernatural, the deranged. Evil shines all the more brightly when held up against the sweet promise of youth.
The fact that Guillermo del Toro is an executive producer of Mama is a tip-off that this won't be just another horror film with misbehaving and soon-to-be-dismembered teenagers or a drooling, slime-soaked monster.
"Mama" announces the arrival of a director who works unusually well with actors-the two children are truly scary-and who creates highly charged environments, effective sound designs and powerful fantasy sequences.
You know something is up when what looks like a cheapie fright flick is produced by Guillermo Del Toro and boasts an Oscar-nominated actress in Jessica Chastain. Mama doesn't live up to their potential, but the film knows how to creep you out.
If you're going to have a ghost in your movie, it might be a good thing to present a viable alternative to that ghost. "Mama," however, presents a battle between two not very good options before crumbling like a sheet on a string.
Plenty of horror movies are willing to settle for making audiences jump. Mama is more ambitious by far: It makes sure viewers are emotionally committed even when they aren't clutching their armrests or covering their eyes.
What's under the bed? Who's behind that door? What's making those vaguely satanic noises? These and other thought-provoking questions are entertained in Mama, a visually polished but overly repetitive chiller.