HTS Overall Score:78.5
“Daddy, there’s a woman outside and she’s not touching the floor.”
If you ever find yourself having a moment, as in a potentially murderous criminal moment, and you hear these words uttered by your child, then be warned: your end is near. Not to make light of a grotesque scene with deeply disturbing imagery, but Mama begins with a solid bang and is quite an exciting roller-coaster ride. It’s a ghost story based on an original – similarly titled – short film written by Andres Muschietti (director/co-writer) and Barbara Muschietti (producer/co-writer) that caught the eye of Executive Producer Guillermo del Toro (Pans Labyrinth, Hell Boy). Despite the fact the movie is full of Hollywood horror cliches and gimmicks, Mama has enough positives and scared-stiff moments to carry the movie until its surprising end.
Like most horror flicks, Mama leans heavily on the element of surprise and suspenseful moments. Similar to a haunted house, its suspense and scare factor is undoubtedly bolstered by the unknown. The majority of the fun is getting to the scare which, once revealed, no longer seems so scary. So, if you are a fan of horror movies and want to keep the element of surprise intact, I suggest skipping down to the audio, video and summary sections of this review. You have been warned!
The film begins with an insane and heavily burdened father (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) committing several murders, including that of his wife. He scoops up his two young children, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse), and whisks them to a cabin hidden away deep in snow covered woods. His plan is to execute them and commit suicide. That plan is in full motion until a demented, vengeful, specter-like creature intervenes. With the father removed from the equation, the two children are stranded at the cabin. For the next 5 years they are raised by the creature. Miraculously they are recovered and custody is awarded to their Uncle Lucas (also played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his antisocial punk rock girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) with the condition that they remain under the treatment of child psychologist Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash). During their absence, the children became bizarre little creatures that skittishly lurch around on their hands and feet, have quick head movements, and enjoy sleeping on the floor. However they cleanup fairly well and appear to be healing after a short period of time.
It isn’t too long before the children begin to refer to someone they call "Mama" (Javier Botet). The adults, including Dr. Dreyfuss, believe Mama is some type of imaginary character the children created to comfort themselves during their cabin years. Little do they know Mama is a vengeful, tormented, ghostly creature that has developed an attachment to the children and has decided to come along for the ride. Mama injures the Uncle, leaving the girls alone with the very reluctant and un-motherly Annabel. This sets the stage for a situation that begins to spiral out of control, punctuated by (for those of you who are easily scared) frightful situations, evil imagery, and terror.
What Mama manages to do – and does it well – is to create moments of great tension and suspense anchored by the presence of a demonic entity that has taken a particularly possessive motherly love to some very innocent children. This creates an extreme sense of unbalance; a juxtaposition of innocence and frailty versus the presence of darkness and anger. As the film progresses, this sense of unbalance is perpetuated by images that are unnatural and down-right freaky, moments of loss of control, nightmares within dreams, children signing erie nursery rhyme-like songs, and of course, the slowly revealed entity of Mama. The film is largely held together by the stellar performances of two child actors and Jessica Chastain who plays the very convincing role of a punk anti-mother. Despite some moments of relative absurdity, Mama is an enjoyable horror thrill ride that horror fans will most likely enjoy.
Rated PG-13 for violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/news/mama3a.jpg[/img]Universal presents Mama with a beautiful 1.85:1 MPEG-4 AVC encode. I found the overall presentation to be wonderfully striking. The film has an earthy color palate that ties-in well with the natural upbringing the children experienced during their years in the cabin. This palate is accentuated by reds, purples and yellows that pop off the screen. Detail is extremely sharp throughout the film. On multiple occasions I was floored by the amazing details presented, be it Mama’s underwater-esque flowing hair and bodily scars, the stitching on clothing, or jaw dropping facial details. Because this is a horror film, there are many scenes filled with deep dark shadows. There are a few moments that the shadows exhibit some crush, but all-in-all I felt dark scenes were able to maintain composure without noise while concealing evil and keeping the film vibrant
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/news/mama4.jpg[/img]Not to be out done by Mama’s wonderful video presentation, the film offers a fantastically dynamic DTS-HD 5.1 experience. Surround activity is abound with swirls of wind, creaking floors, moths flapping their wings, Mama’s cackles and growls, and loads of immersive sound effects, all of which are used with perfect directionality. Dialog is dead center, clear, and exacting. There is never a moment that a word meant to be heard is missed. Directionality and pans across the front sound stage are spot-on. And bass-heads will be glad to know LFE is present, totally evil, and appropriately used at all the right bone-chilling times.
All of Mama’s audio accolades are plopped on top of a beautiful original score composed by Fernando Velazquez. It rises and falls with the emotion of the movie and effectively seeps into the rear channels for an enveloping experience. Of course, like a good horror movie, the score has moments of total discord that clash and clamor their way to heightened crescendos of terror.
When you pull all of these elements together you have a truly excellent audio presentation, which might just be the film’s greatest strength.
- Deleted Scenes
- Original Short with Introduction by Guillermo del Toro
- The Birth of Mama
- Feature Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Andy Muschietti and Producer/Co-Writer Barbara Muschietti
I typically find my reaction to a horror movie to be one of two extremes: Extreme like or extreme dislike. I was surprised to find Mama falling somewhere in the middle. I thoroughly enjoyed the film’s presentation, which is highlighted by a stellar audio assault, and enjoyed the film’s beginning and middle acts. But Mama is a genre film that follows along a pathway horror films have previously traveled. Cliches abound, there are plenty of spooks and scares paired with the gradual unveiling of a wonderfully complex demonic creature (that, by the way, is a visual delight). What saves the film is a rather interesting and unconventional ending. For those of you that aren’t huge horror fans, you’ll undoubtedly grapple with a believability factor that might spoil the overall like-ability of the film. But for those of you that are (those of you that enjoy suspending belief and accepting altered realities), I think you will find Mama has much entertainment to offer.
While Mama is certainly not the best horror film I’ve seen in recent years, I’m confident in recommending it as a solid rental for viewers looking for a fun scare and possibly a buy for hardcore horror fans.
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Andy Muschietti and Barbara Muschietti
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Spanish DTS Digital Surround 5.1
Runtime: 100 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: May 7, 2013
Buy Mama Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Rental for casual horror fans, possible buy for true horror fans