Directed By: Andres Muschietti

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, and Daniel Kash

"A ghost is an emotion, bent out of shape, condemned to repeat itself, time and time again, until it rights the wrong it was done."
-A Local Record-keeper

We don't get too many ghost stories at the box office.  I'm talking about real ghost stories, not Paranormal Activity.  I'm talking about films like last year's The Woman in Black.  I'm talking about films that can be downright bone-chilling.  Mama is that ghost story for us this year.  Produced by Guillermo del Toro, this supernatural thriller is a visual treat and a little recompense for 2011's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.

Once upon a time, Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) murders his wife and several business partners.  He goes home and kidnaps his daughters Victoria and Lily (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse).  Driving too fast along an isolated road, Jeffrey crashes in the woods with the girls and takes them to a nearby cabin.  Ready to complete his sick murder-suicide fantasy, Jeffrey prepares to shoot Victoria when a mysterious figure kills him.  Now lost to the world, Victoria and Lily are left alone in the woods to be raised by this ghostly presence named "Mama" (Javier Botet)

Some five years later, Jeffrey's twin brother Lucas (Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) are living in Richmond.  Lucas has hired a team to continue to search for Jeffrey and the girls.  One day, his team finds the girls in that same abandoned cabin and brings them back into the world.  Lucas is eager to step up and take care of his brother's kids, but a custody battle looms with their wealthy aunt Jean (Jane Moffat) from the West Coast.  For now, they're under the care of Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash).  With the help of the good doctor, Lucas and Annabel get custody of the girls.  What they don't realize is that it's a packaged deal.  They get Mama too.

Mama is definitely an intriguing ghost story with plenty of thrills and chills, but it does nothing but play into the quote at the beginning of this review.  It's an enjoyable but straightforward ghost story.  With Guillermo del Toro producing, this film definitely features some of his trademark visuals.  Best actress Oscar frontrunner Jessica Chastain adds to her already diverse résumé with another solid performance, but Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse may just steal the show with their wild performances.

Director Andres Muschietti solidly builds several thrills throughout Mama.  He turns his lead poltergeist into a mysterious menacing figure that oozes with insanity.  What potentially makes Mama a stronger film though is that he makes this ghost a maternal figure who takes care of Victoria and Lily.  While creating a jealous motherly ghost is definitely something different and an intriguing backstory, this uniqueness doesn't carry over to the overarching plot developments.  Regardless of the interesting background for our ghost, Mama is just your basic ghost story.

Mama does have some interesting visuals.  Pulling a page out of Guillermo del Toro's playbook, Muschietti gives us a ghastly yet beautiful ghost who appears to be more tormented in death than she was in life.  He gives us two girls who look like wild animals after years of living in the forest.  He gives us lots of dark butterflies that symbolize something much more chilling than spring is coming.  He gives us dingy walls that look like doorways to hell itself.  Altogether, Muschietti crafts a real visual treat.

We're getting a double dose of new leading lady Jessica Chastain this month.  Instead of playing a tough CIA operative as is the case in Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain is playing a rocker chick with a whole lot of tattoos who has no desire to be a mother.  She's struggling with the reality of being a caregiver for these girls and with the lurking feeling that she's not alone.  While Chastain offers another solid performance, the girls are the most intriguing characters in this ghost story.  Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse give us some insight into the fragile psychological underpinnings of these characters.  They're scarred, fretful, and animalistic.  They're everything these girls should be.

Mama doesn't rise to the heights of other supernatural thrillers.  It mostly plays to the money quote at the beginning of this review.  It's all about righting the wrong, which makes it a fairly predictable, straightforward thriller.  The ending isn't all that satisfying either.  That being said, it is still an enjoyable thrill ride.  Mama gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a few rounds of beer with this one.