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A feature-length expansion that forgets to expand the frights.


Once welcomed as a refreshingly old-school alternative to the grisly extremes of torture porn, the supernatural thriller now seems in danger of simply becoming old hat. Be it the recent Paranormal Activity films, last year’s U.K. export The Woman In Black, or Mama—the latest of Guillermo del Toro’s pet producing projects—films in the genre are quickly falling prey to a formulaic uniformity: take some kids accompanied by a sinister spectral companion, add deafening-sound-cue-assisted jump scares, and simmer on low until a frantic finale.

Expanding his 2008 short of the same name, director Andrés Muschietti dutifully follows the recipe, aiming for a slow-burn spook story premised on the primal, apparently posthumous power of the maternal bond. Unfortunately, Mama fizzles, despite the presence of a miscast Jessica Chastain, and a freakish, suitably del Toro-esque central ghoul. Indeed, the titular spirit is perhaps too present, as Muschietti laboriously fills in the blanks of her boilerplate backstory. While he clearly hopes to encourage empathy for the tragic spirit, in leaving so little to the imagination, he mainly succeeds in snuffing out Mama‘s menace.