Mama Blu-ray Review

Mama Blu-ray ReviewAbout a year ago I came across this little short film of two girls being terrified of something they called Mama. There was no exposition, no hunt for what this Mama was. There was barely even a reveal. And it worked. It gave me the creeps in a way that a movie hadn’t in quite some time. I can only imagine that Guillermo del Toro felt the same. At some point in time he had seen this short as well, but whereas all I could do was share it with like-minded friends, del Toro sought out the creators of this short and offered to help them make it into a full length film. That film, for better or worse, is Mama.

The film opens on a beautifully shot suburban scene that turns grim quite quickly. While outside the home is a beautiful and serene place, a peek inside reveals a frantic man named Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones) who has just murdered his wife. Acting like a man out of time and clearly out of his sorts, he grabs his two young daughters from the home, puts them in the car and heads for the woods. It seems he means to take out his entire family, including himself. Just as he comes to grips with the killing of his daughters, something otherworldly steps out of the shadows and kills him first, leaving the girls be.

Cut to five years later and the film reveals that Jeffery has a twin brother named Lucas (also played by Coster-Waldau, naturally). Lucas has spent these past five years searching in vain for his nieces, refusing to believe that they are dead and blowing through his inheritance money from his brother’s death in the process. His girlfriend, a punk-y, bass-playing gal by the name of Annabell (Jessica Chastain) doesn’t quite share in Lucas’ optimism that the girls might still be alive after all this time. Much to everyone’s surprise, they are but they are far from the same.

Having spent five years in the woods, the two young sisters, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily (Isabelle Nelisse), have become almost feral, especially the younger Lily who has spent nearly her whole life out in the woods and away from civilization. The girls are brought back and put under evaluation while staying with Lucas and Annabell. As any horror tale goes, though, they brought something with them and that something will do whatever it takes to keep its newfound children, no matter who it has to haunt and kill along the way.

For me, Mama has quite a few high points. For one, the cast is stellar from top to bottom. Chastain is the de facto lead and manages to make her character more than the stereotypical husk it could have been in lesser hands, providing a genuine character shift and being compelling throughout. Coster-Waldau also holds his own, despite having limited screen time as the focus shifts more towards Annabell’s relationship with the girls.

Mama Blu-ray Review

The two young actresses, Charpentier and Nelisse, are the high water mark, though. I think everyone from movie makers to movie goers gets a big skeptical when films heavily feature child actors, but such is not the case here. Nelisse encapsulates Lily’s feral wildness and Charpentier portrays Victoria with several layers on display, most of them presented quite subtly.

Director Muschietti is also able to build a perfect mix of beauty and tension with his tone and visuals. The opening scene of the film is the perfect kicker for a film of this sort and instantly establishes a mood and atmosphere that, sadly, the film itself kind of kills more and more as it goes.

The way in which the film kills this perfectly built tone and atmosphere lies in explanation. I feel, sadly, that there is a genuine insistence these days that audiences don’t want any mystery with their entertainment and if there is any, it damn well better have an explanation for everything. I think this is the biggest problem plaguing modern horror. There was a time where one could have a monster movie and it was just a monster. There was no sad back story or slighting against someone that made them a creature. The problem with explanations in this context is that they rob monsters of their mystery and their terror.

As the film progresses, the story reveals more and more of the Mama character via narrative as well as visually and together they just nullify the wonderful mood and tension that the filmmakers have built up around her. It’s a real shame about the visual aspect, too. Actor Javier Botet was hired for the role of Mama and, as revealed in some of the special features included on the disc, made quite the convincing monster complete with practical effects and Botet’s own acting and contortionist abilities. The shame comes in when every bit of his work is buried under layer upon layer of CGI, not only rendering the character of Mama quite fake looking but simultaneously negating what could have been quite a haunting performance all on its own.

Mama also has an ending that viewers are either going to think is completely artistic and metaphorical or is just absolutely dumb and merely being a case of having a good beginning with no real ending. Either way, it still leaves a bit to be desired.

High-Def Presentation

Sporting a 1080p MPEG 4 AVC transfer, Mama is a film that just absolutely shines in high definition. I was already quite wowed by the look of the film when I saw it in theaters, but this presentation is just flooring. Incredible detail in close ups and wide shots, ranging from clothing detail to the ruggedness of the woods. Blacks are incredibly deep but still retain their natural feeling. Contrast is strong and grain is present throughout helping the picture maintain a film-like quality. Despite leaning a bit on the darker side tone wise, the picture on Mama is damn near demo quality.

Going along with the incredible video transfer is the equally impressive audio mix. Mama comes to Blu-ray with a DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track that is simply astounding. It plays right along with the film’s tone, maintaining a subtle and nuanced way about it until the perfect moment where the soundscape rattles viewers to their core. Dialogue stays centered and focused throughout and somehow manages to never feel overwhelmed. Surrounds are utilized in wonderfully terrifying ways, making the most minimal of ambient noise send shivers down ones spine. There is absolutely excellent work on display here and yet another show piece for high def tech enthusiasts.

Mama Blu-ray Review

Beyond the Feature

Mama comes to Blu-ray with a fairly decent amount of special features. Most notable of the ones included on the disc is the Original Short film that Mama is based upon. This is the short that del Toro (who offers an optional introduction here) saw that inspired him to take a chance on the Mushietti siblings. I’m ecstatic about its inclusion here. The included Audio Commentary with Andy and Barbara Muschietti is also a welcome addition to the release. The brother and sister duo jump right into the film and get quite in-depth in many aspects of the film except the ending, sadly, which is what I was most anxious to hear about. All in all, it’s a solid set of extras.

The following is a complete list of extras included on this release:

  • Audio Commentary
  • Original Short (HD, 5 min)
  • The Birth of Mama (HD, 10 min)
  • Matriarchal Secrets: The Visual Effects of Mama (HD, 6 min)
  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 8 min)

This release also includes a DVD, a Digital Copy and an UltraViolet version of the film.

Mama is definitely a mixed bag and therefore a bit hard to pin down my overall feelings on it. The cast, the atmosphere and cinematography are absolutely brilliant and had me in love with the movie, even despite most of its faults. Those faults do manage to continue to grow as the film continues robbing it of all the good natural scares it has built up and then leaving the viewer with an ending that’s just, in my opinion, absolutely lackluster. The disc does come with absolutely incredible PQ and AQ and the special features are quite good as well. I’d shy away from saying that it’s a buy, but I would at least urge those interested to give Mama a look as there are some worthwhile things going on. If nothing else, the disc includes the original short, which is a perfect piece of horror all to its own.

Shop for Mama on Blu-ray and DVD combo for a discounted price at (May 7, 2013 release date).

Mama Blu-ray Review

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