Movie review: Jessica Chastain no angel in the dark 'Mama'

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Entertainment,Movies,Kelly Jane Torrance

Jessica Chastain is having quite a month. First, she was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her work in "Zero Dark Thirty." Days later, she won the Golden Globe for her performance. And less than a week after that, she has a new film in theaters -- but it's one that's unlikely to snag her an award.

That's not to say "Mama" isn't worth watching. In fact, it's a solid picture. It just happens to be a genre picture, a horror flick with lots of thrills and chills.

The movie opens with a very real kind of horror: Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) grabs his two young daughters and takes off down the highway after killing two business partners and his estranged wife. The car crashes, and the trio finds shelter in a lonely cabin, where Jeffrey plans to continue his killing spree. But as he holds a gun to the head of one of his two cute girls, something stops him from doing the deed.

Fast-forward five years, and the girls have practically turned into feral animals. Their uncle, Lucas (also played by Coster-Waldau), has never stopped trying to find them. But even he is surprised when they're found. He's overjoyed, of course. But he doesn't seem to question how Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse) managed to survive on their own.

On screen
'Mama'
2.5 out of 4 stars
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier
Director: Andres Muschietti
Rated: PG-13 for violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements
Running time: 100 minutes

The answer, of course, is that they didn't. This is a horror movie, as we're constantly reminded by director Andres Muschietti, so we know that Mama is not at all imaginary -- and that she isn't interested in letting the girls reclaim a normal life.

Lucas's girlfriend, Annabel (Chastain), becomes the girls' sole caregiver when Mama puts Lucas into a coma. We learned the first moment we saw her that Annabel isn't maternal. But the girls need a better Mama than the ghostly presence.

This is Chastain as we've never seen her before. The talented redhead looks angelic in almost every role she plays. But here, her hair is black, her nails are black, and she even eats licorice that's black. Annabel is a bass player in a rock band and reluctant to settle down. But her love for Lucas leads her to quit the band and move into a small-town Virginia house.

Chastain is certainly the biggest reason to see "Mama," but there are others. The young actresses playing the girls can hold their own.

As with any horror movie, there are many unanswered questions. But as you'd expect with a movie executive produced by "Pan's Labyrinth" director Guillermo del Toro, "Mama" has a lot of imagination and more than a few clever shots.

If you admired Chastain's work in "Zero Dark Thirty" but are looking for scares that let you escape from the tortuous real world, "Mama" is the film to see.

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