If anyone ever found the sisters and pried them away, this intensely possessive mom would certainly be upset. Which is what happens when trackers do finally find the girls, and Annabel and Lucas win custody.
Yes, there’s a psychiatrist (Daniel Kash), who’s convinced the sisters have invented this “imaginary guardian.” And yes, there’s a family member (Jane Moffat) competing for custody rights. And when Lucas injures himself — a fall down the stairs, a coma — it is Annabel who is left to fend for herself, and left to figure out how to connect with these sinister siblings.
Like another del Toro stamp-of-approval Spanish horror entry, “The Orphanage,” Muschietti’s “Mama” is full of arty tropes — sepia-toned flashbacks, flickering lights, menacing murmurings. The atmosphere is positively spectral. And it’s easy to see why del Toro is a champion: Like his “Pan’s Labyrinth,” there’s a fairy-tale aspect (the film even begins with the title card “Once upon a time ... “), with children in jeopardy, a witchy monster, and edge-of-the-precipice confrontations.
In the end, if it isn’t all a dream, it’s maybe kind of a joke. And the filmmakers have been forced to do what they so expertly didn’t do for most of the movie: linger on the digitally rendered title creature, all pliable and anorexic, with eyes that are big and sad but don’t look real at all.