BLU-RAY REVIEW: Mama
Guillermo del Toro's Horror Production Hits Hi-Def Home Video...
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In Mama, the Muschietti siblings - director/co-writer Andrés Muschietti and producer/co-writer Barbara Muschietti - bring to life a feature-length horror thriller based on their own Spanish-language short that obviously impressed producer Guillermo del Toro enough to fund a feature length film. The plot - original and haunting in many aspects and somewhat transparent and predictable in others - finds two young sisters, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily (Isabelle Néliss), being raised by their uncle and his girlfriend after five years growing up in the wilderness. After their mother's murder and their father's suicide, the pair is lost to the wild and somehow - miraculously - survives. How they survived and what raised them is the real question on viewer's minds as Uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain), suddenly find their home with more than just the two sisters as new residence.
The film's startling beginning sets the stage beautifully for a tale of desperation, loneliness and longing; and yet, as anticipation builds and the story's characters begin to grow, something all too familiar begins to peak its head. And while it's not an ugly head - or at least not nearly as ugly as "Mama," the girls' supposedly imaginary friend - it's still all too clear where the film is going. For horror fans, the ending will seem a bit too predictable, but how the Muschiettis get to the ending is an exciting and entertaining ride. Thanks to powerful performances by Chastain, who plays Annabel with emotion and love, and Charpentier and Néliss, who play the young sisters perfectly, the story flows and the characters in Mama become very real and relateable.
The video is gorgeous; filtered and weathered with a rugged look of age and decay throughout. The colors are all sharp and hard and fit the mood of the film well. Likewise, the audio - DTS-HD 5.1 - delivers with subtlety and charisma. The dialogue is always clear, even when whispers between the sisters and "Mama" are traded, and the dynamic effects - including scratching, creaking and frightening whispers previously mentioned.
As for special features, the disc includes an audio commentary with brother-sister filmmaking team Andy and Barbara Muschietti, who deliver an inviting and informative look at the film's many aspects. Likewise, the duo's original short film is included here, along with an intro by Guillermo del Toro (the short also features optional commentary with the Muschiettis, which is cool too). A 10-minute "The Birth of Mama" is a bit short, but fun featurette with interviews with del Toro, cast and crew to discuss the feature film's development. The 6-minute "Matriarchal Secrets: The Visual Effects of Mama" provides a look at the film's visual effects, including CGI use, prosthetics and more. Lastly, six deleted scenes totalling around 8 minutes are also included.
There's no doubt about it, Mama delivers on a number of great scares. I'm the guy who, in the theater or at home, is jumping at horror films. And during Mama I jumped a lot. And, while Mama has many aspects which make it tense, engaging and entertaining; it unfortunately falls into routine and becomes a bit too familiar. The vengeful spirit story has been done a lot over the last decade and, my old Writing teacher used to say, "tell something new in an old way or tell something old in a new way." Thankfully, the Muschiettis tell something old in a new way and inject some much needed new life into a genre. Unfortunately, it may be new life that's sadly forgotten all too soon by die-hard horror fans. That said, be sure to pick it up and check it out for yourself. With great performances and a story that's got a lot of great original pieces, Mama is available now wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jess C. Horsley