Buried somewhere in this supernatural horror is a slyly subversive allegory on mother love. Sponsored by Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), it spins a creepy tale of loss and possession: two young daughters (Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse) of a vanished murderer are found in a backwoods cabin, where they have lived on a diet of cherries and moths for five years.
Who has raised these feral creatures? Well, there's the rub – the older one addresses an invisible presence as "Mama", prompting a child psychiatrist to take an interest and thereby enable the girls' cool uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his goth-rock girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) to step in as temporary guardians. And there was Annabel thinking that she didn't want to have kids!
Director Andrés Muschietti handles the early scenes of family life with skill, showing just enough of the spectral Mama – a free-floating black miasma with a face – and of Annabel's confusion to make us uneasy. Del Toro's influence is felt in the creepy corridor shots, the weird gobbling noise announcing the spirit and the wall stains that sprout dark tendrils. Sadly, the last third falls apart in a daft muddle of ancient curses and maternal frenzies. I was only surprised that the cute dachshund survived unscathed.
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