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Release Date(s)2013 (May 7, 2013)
Mama is another horror film that was written and directed by someone you’ve never heard of (Andy Muschietti) but is being presented by Guillermo Del Toro. It’s based on the short film of the same name that, ultimately, doesn’t really reflect the final film, except only in borrowing from it.
Sarcasm aside, Mama isn’t a terrible horror movie. It has some creepy visuals and is designed pretty well, but it’s hampered by a script that isn’t all that interesting. The movie isn’t full of jump scares either, although they’re present more than I would like. And the performances from everyone, including Jessica Chastain and the little girls, are good enough without standing out. So overall, it has some nice ideas, but it needed a better script with some more atmospherics to it. The story involves two young girls that, after having lost both of their parents, are being cared for by a supernatural force known only as “Mama.” When they are discovered in the deep woods after having been missing for five years, they are taken in by their caring uncle, his child-reluctant girlfriend and, unknowingly, a jealous “Mama.”
The film itself suffers from what a lot of films suffer from nowadays, especially horror films: good ideas but poor execution. Even with the heartfelt ending, I walked away from the film with little to no interest in seeing it again, and it’s mainly because of the story. For instance, the little girls’ uncle is in a hospital bed for the biggest duration of the film. His character winds up being more or less a linchpin for the main drive of the story, which is Jessica Chastain’s characters having to be forced to deal with the girls on her own when he’s out of the picture, making her more of a mother-like figure. I get that, and they set it up well enough, but once he’s in the hospital, his character is meaningless to the story. They might as well have killed him off at that point because he’s still in bed for almost the entire film, contributing nothing to the story. Even when he has a kind of dream or spiritual connection with his brother about saving the girls from Mama, it led to absolutely nowhere. He doesn’t do anything about it, but yet we keep cutting back to him in his bed. It just seems like a waste of a character to me.
I would also have preferred less use of CGI in the film. Anytime we start getting into the character of Mama herself, she’s computer-generated, despite there being an actual actor on set playing the part. It always takes me out of the moment when that happens in movies. I also found it kind of disheartening that they used all of the content from the short film and incorporated it into body of the film. It seems like that would have been the initial idea from where better ideas spring from, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. It’s a shame too because Mama has some pretty good ideas, but doesn’t bring them to life in better ways than it could have. It’s not a bad film, just a slightly mediocre one, at least in this fellow’s opinion anyway.
Mama on Blu-ray is what you’d expect from a modern horror film: dark and moody. The presentation itself is quite excellent. Despite not being a film I liked, I did find it beautiful to look at. It’s mostly shadows and darkness, but there’s beauty to it. The encode for the transfer appears virtually flawless, with any cosmetic flaws inherent in the film itself. Grain is even and unobtrusive, blacks levels are nice and deep, colors and flesh tones look very good and contrast is at an appropriate level. There’s an amazing level of clarity on display that should leave minimal room for complaint. The same goes for the audio, presented on an English 5.1 DTS-HD track. It’s a pretty aggressive surround experience with a lot of subtleties and ambience thrown in, while the LFE moments are loud and have real punch to them. If you’re prone to falling for the jump scares (when the sound bottoms out and then gets loud again to scare you), then this soundtrack will do a number on you. The dialogue isn’t always as clear as it could be, but everything else is quite good. There are also two additional audio options, Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD and English 2.0 DVS, as well as subtitles in English SDH, Spanish and French for those who might need them.
As for the extras, there’s a decent amount thrown in for some nice added value. Opening the disc are four previews with seven other previews available on the main menu; an audio commentary with director/co-writer Andy Muschietti and producer/co-writer Barbara Muschietti; the original Mama short with an introduction by Guillermo Del Toro; deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by the director and producer again; The Birth of Mama featurette; and exclusive to the Blu-ray disc, the Matriarchal Secrets: The Visual Effects of Mama featurette. There are also Ultraviolet and Digital Copy options. On the DVD, everything is identical, minus the Blu-ray exclusive featurette and the main soundtracks in Dolby Digital instead. It’s a good set of extras for a film with a slightly better following that I would have expected. As far as films that Guillermo Del Toro has presented without being directly involved in the creative process, I found The Orphanage to be better by comparison. Mama as a film is only ok with some creative elements here and there, but not enough for me to warrant seeing it multiple times over. For fans of the film, this Blu-ray release should keep you pretty happy.
- Tim Salmons