During the financial crisis, a ruined man slaughters his co-workers and wife then hightails it with his two young daughters.
They wind up in a cabin in the woods, the kids saved by a supernatural force just as daddy is about to shoot them.
Discovered five years later by the man’s brother Lucas (Game Of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his goth girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain), the girls are feral.
But attempts to domesticate them incur the wrath of that which saved them from papa’s gun.
It seems that ‘Mama’ is not ready to let go of her two young charges… Mama’s quick-moving set-up jams a lot of nasty business into one cauldron of unease, and for a good portion of the film, there’s an intoxicating anything-goes feel to the proceedings.
OK, so the horror clichés mount and too much sloshing around in a grunge atmosphere of flickering lights dashes momentum, but there are chilling images and precision stings.
This is a film with aspirations far beyond the cynical wave of torture terrors and found-footage horrors, even if a surrealist finale will leave some viewers scratching their heads.
As for Argentine director Andrés Muschietti, it’s easy to see why del Toro championed him. Mama is fleshed out from his three-minute short Mamá, and it’s got its fair share of gothic poetry.
The performances, too, are strong - especially by child actors Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse.
Mama could be the start of a directorial career worth watching.
Fairytale horror that is low on scares and velocity but buoyed by the syrup-thick atmosphere and the creepy stares of the young actresses.