It’s mid-January, which means audiences are firmly in the middle of Hollywood’s dumping ground. This week finds an interesting range of releases, all of which feature predictable stories and talented casts. Still, at least one of the films works, while another flops and a third falls in the middle.
First up is a production from Guillermo del Toro: Mama, a thriller starring Jessica Chastain. Mama tells the story of two girls, Victoria and Lily, who disappeared in the woods one day. After five years of searching by their Uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the girls are found safe but feral, surviving without human contact. The girls are taken in by Lucas and his girlfriend, Annabel (Chastain), who soon discover that the girls weren’t alone in the woods for all those years.
Mama is one of the rare horror films that works, largely due to a genuinely creepy story and an excellent cast headlined by Chastain. Even though she’s played a number of characters over the past few years, earning Oscar nominations for her work in The Help and Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain shows audiences a different style with the edgy, caustic Annabel.
As for the film itself, the storyline relies more on psychological horror over cheap blood and gore. The combination of shocking moments and genuinely creepy performances from the girls at the center of the story lift Mama above some conventional moments. For audiences looking for a good scare, Mama delivers.
Unfortunately, another film this weekend is unable to rise above its conventional moments. Broken City stars Mark Wahlberg as an ex-cop out for revenge after being double-crossed by the corrupt Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe). Even with a talented cast that also includes Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright and Kyle Chandler, Broken City can’t overcome a poorly-written script that cobbles together various ideas into a mediocre mess.
Finally, in limited release comes LUV, a coming-of-age drama starring newcomer Michael Rainey Jr. as Woody, an 11-year-old boy who accompanies his Uncle Vincent (Common) over the course of an increasingly bizarre day in Baltimore. Vincent is just out of prison, and his attempt to secure a loan to start a new business leads him from a bank to former partners in Vincent’s criminal activities who are uneasy around Vincent, whose release from prison seems questionable to them. The film descends increasingly into a sad, dark story that unfortunately strains at believability at times. What helps LUV is a strong core cast, which also features supporting roles from Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, and a particularly effective Dennis Haysbert