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Stars: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, Daniel Kash, Jane Moffat, David Fox, Morgan McGarry

Director: Andy Muschietti

Quite heavily indebted to such Japanese movies as The Ring, this scary little spine-chiller - an expansion by director Muschietti, then billed as Andrés, of his 2008 short - induced a fair number of shocked gasps and involuntary cries from the preview audience and will doubtless do the same for you.

The story starts five years before the main action, as a man shoots two business associates and his estranged wife before fleeing into the snowbound Virginia countryside with his two tiny daughters. Ending up in a forest hut after crashing his car, the man's about to shoot the girls when he is overwhelmed by an entity the girls come to call Mama.

Five years on, the girls (Charpentier, Nérisse) are found, filthy and feral, and, much to the chagrin of their great-aunt (Moffat) come to live with their father's brother Luke (Coster-Waldau) and his current partner, goth rocker Annabel (Chastain, with her hair dyed black, giving her an uncanny resemblance to Liza Minnelli).

The girls, especially the younger one, who scuttles about on all fours, are completely wild, and, while only slowly responding to their new surroundings, seems to have brought 'something'; back with them to their new home...something that lives in the walls and is apt to erupt from them like a bat out of hell.

The Oscar-nominated Chastain is obviously a class above the usual horror heroine, and registers strongly as the increasingly beleaguered Annabel. Special affects are goodish although somewhat derivative and the ending is pretty shivery, even if dragged out a bit too long.

David Quinlan

Canada/Spain 2013. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour by deluxe.
99 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 17 Feb 2013