Review by Jude Felton
It seems that everywhere you look; Guillermo Del Toro is involved with another new film. Not only is he directing his own work though, he is also heavily involved in helping out new directors and supporting the independent scene, such as Jovanka Vukovic’s The Captured Bird. The latest to hit the big screen, and now Blu-ray and DVD, is Mama, which was written and directed by Andy Muschietti.
Based on Muschietti’s short film of the same name, which you can find on YouTube, Mama is a flawed yet creepy and entertaining little spook fest. The story concerns two young sisters who go missing after a fairly spectacular car crash in the snow covered mountains. Their father dies, leaving the two girls to fend for themselves. Or do they?
A hop, skip and a jump forward in time and we find the girls uncle, Lucas, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (who also plays the father), still searching for his nieces. Then, as luck would have it, they are miraculously found and taken in by their uncle. Things aren’t that straightforward though, as Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) find themselves in a battle to win custody. That’s all by the wayside though, as the main thrust of the plot is the fact that the two, now feral, girls seem to have brought someone or something back with them from the woods.
Mama is actually a quite good little movie. It definitely has Del Toro’s touch to it, but Muschietti has delivered a film that looks pretty damned good, aside from some dodgy CGI effects, and more importantly a really creepy film. There are your usual jump scares; however there is also a great atmosphere of dread and general creepiness that permeates the movie.
Where the film falls apart slightly though, is in the fact that Chastain is hard to believe as a punk rock bass player, due in part to her current success, but more importantly there are several giant plot holes in Mama. For example, I cannot believe that it would take anyone several years to find the two girls, or at the very least the car wreckage. Also, and I’ll try and put this across without spoiling anything, is why does the ghostly Mama character wait so damn long to do what she needs to do. This all could have been wrapped up in about five minutes.
What Mama is though, is a fairly successful mainstream spook fest that does deliver a lot of what it set out to do. It does fall way short of Del Toro’s earlier forays into ghostly horror, but it is also far superior to many so-called horror flicks that burden the big screen. The Asian influence is quite apparent here, and thanks to an all-around solid cast, the film does work for the most part.
In terms of its appeal, I would have to say that, once again, it is a horror film that isn’t really aimed at the staunch, and often overly negative, horror fans, but more of a mainstream audience. That isn’t to say that horror fans won’t, or can’t, enjoy it, as there is plenty here to have fun with. I would have liked to have seen a little more time spent on perfecting the appearance of the titular character, as the CGI did get very irritating at times, however she did still manage to give off a real spooky presence.
The Blu-ray version, which I watched, looked and sounded terrific. One thing about Universal is that they consistently deliver bloody good Hi-Def releases, and this is no exception. You also get your DVD, Digital and Ultraviolet copies, which just add to the value, but also a fair amount of bonus features. There’s an audio commentary from Andy Muschietti and Barbara Muschietti, deleted scenes, the original short, The Birth of Mama and Matriarchal Secrets: The Visual Effects of Mama, which is exclusive to the Blu-ray.
Overall, Mama is another flawed mainstream horror flick, although it is not one that is without its merits. If ghostly flicks, along the lines of The Woman in Black, are your thing, this is the movie for you. Not as good as it could have been, but by no means as bad as some films out there that pass themselves off as horror. I’d watch it again, and no doubt will.
Mama is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital and VOD from Universal.