I wish Mama were worse. It'd be less frustrating if it were irredeemable dreck than it is to have all these little kernels of great ideas and visuals hovering around it, popping their head out now and again, like a game of creative whack-a-mole. In the end it's just an aimless soup of ideas, made bland by its own indecision, but it didn't have to be that way!
Take for example what I found to be the most effectively horrifying image in the film. Spoilers, ho. If you've seen the previews, you know the gist - two little girls were abandoned in the woods and got raised by a possibly evil ghost lady, and when they're rescued and brought back to civilization the possibly evil ghost lady comes with them, cue scares. The lovely and talented Jessica Chastain (shot here by a camera obsessed with her cleavage and not much else) is taking care of the girls (she dates their uncle). She is asleep and she has a bad dream, which puts her in the shoes of the possibly evil ghost lady, letting her (and in turn we, the audience) see what the possibly evil ghost lady's back-story is. It is of course of terribly important we learn this in every ghost movie, so we know how to vanquish the evil spirit.
Anyway Jessica Chastain wakes up and realizes there's something under her bed and the camera pans down and we see that the possibly evil ghost lady is down there actually digging her way up through the mattress underneath Jessica Chastain.Dude! That is scary! An entire movie could be based on the idea of that image, you know? The Monster Under The Bed is an old staple but The Monster Under The Bed gets us when we try to get off the bed, they grab at our ankles, or they come crawling around up one side and we don't know which side they're coming from - that's how The Monster Under The Bed works! The Monster Under The Bed shredding apart the mattress underneath you is not right!
And that's what makes is SO right. But the movie doesn't do anything with that. The ghost lady doesn't even end up coming up through the mattress - two seconds later she pops up around the side, just like they always do. Boring ol' ghost lady. And that ends up just being a toss off moment three quarters of the way through a movie stuffed to the gills with similarly not streamlined ideas. It feels like a first draft. Motivations are murky if we're lucky; mostly they're just not bothered with. If the movie wanted to focus on anything we could probably work out a character arc for Jessica Chastain, she's trying to find a through-line the whole time, but it's only interested in that in quick pauses between making an undulating wig scurry across a floor. But if I'm going to complain about Jessica Chastain's character being riddled with inconsistencies then it's best I not even address what they give Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to work with. He gets the full twins and coma treatment, adding up to nothing much. The two little girl actresses are actually terrific kid actors though. If only the movie had cared as much for their story as ghost lady did for them.