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dir Andy Muschietti
prd J Miles Dale, Barbara Muschietti
scr Neil Cross, Andy Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti
with Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nelisse, Daniel Kash, Jane Moffat, Javier Botet, David Fox, Dominic Cuzzocrea, Julia Chantrey, Morgan McGarry, Christopher Marren
release US 18.Jan.13, UK 22.Feb.13
Maternal instincts: Chastain, Nelisse and Charpentier
the original 2008 short:
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Argentine filmmaker Muschietti creates an oppressively intense atmosphere with this horror mystery, which is expanded from his three-minute 2008 short. There are clever filmmaking touches all the way through that provide both witty freak-outs and full-on jolts. But the plot is too murky to properly draw us in.
After surviving in a woodland cabin for five years, the orphaned Victoria and Lilly (Charpentier and Nelisse) are reunited with their father's brother Lucas (Coster-Waldau), who must challenge an aunt (Moffat) for the right to raise them as his daughters with his rock-chick girlfriend Annabel (Chastain). But after he's hospitalised, Annabel is alone in the house with these still-feral girls, and she and a consulting shrink (Kash) begin to suspect that not only were they probably not alone in the cabin, but they seem to have brought an angry ghost out of the woods with them.
Much of the screen time is taken up with the doctor's investigation into the identity of the woman the girls call "Mama", which involves fortuitous searches through old records and some haphazard coincidences that help things move toward a series of big climactic moments. But everything seems too contrived, leaving us with nagging doubts even though what's on screen is thoroughly freaking us out.
Equally contrived is the casting of Chastain as a goth rocker. Although she gives it her best shot, effectively conveying the feeling of a woman far out of her depth, we never accept her as anything but a nice girlfriend reluctantly willing to do rather a lot more for her boyfriend than is reasonable. Which brings us to Coster-Waldau, who's solid as Lucas (and as the girls' father in flashbacks), but is marginalised in a pointless bit of corny screenwriting.
Where the film works is in the subtler moments in which director Muschietti freaks us out with simple directing tricks. When he's not trying to explain his implausible script or show off the effects budget, his direction is inventive, playful and chilling. But like most horror movies, the more we see of the malevolent ghost the less scary she is. So by the time they all race to an cheesy, overwrought final showdown, it's not easy to care what happens.
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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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