There are plenty of chills, scares, and strong possibilities for nightmares if you watch 'Mama.' This horror film came and went quickly from theaters. If you missed it, do yourself a favor and pick it up. Andres and Barbara Muschietti wrote, produced, and directed based on their 4 minute short film, which garnered the attention of Guillermo Del Toro. A little while later, the pair had a feature length movie made with Guillermo's name on it.
More often than not these days, supernatural horror flicks tend to lose steam after their first act by either not producing enough scares, the script falling into a slow pace and never recovering, or having a lack of structure that makes the movie play from one scare to the next with dull filler in between. 'Mama' picks up where other horror films fail and ultimately succeeds in not only scaring us, but in telling a good story with some stellar performances.
In a shocking opening sequence, we see an unstable father (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) kill his wife in their beautiful home and take his two very young daughters to a desolate cabin in the woods after crashing his car. Spiraling out of control from his recent action, he decides to kill his two daughters and then kill himself. However, just before he can pull the trigger, something that only nightmares are made of grabs him and brutally kills him, sparing the two girls.
We cut to five years later, where we see this deranged father's brother, Lucas (also played by Coster-Waldau) and his rock n' roll girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) living together and trying to make ends meet as they are both starving artists. They get word that his two nieces have been found and are alive. They seem to have been raised in the woods and have even adopted a style of walking on all fours, which is very creepy.
The two nieces, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) who is now eight, and the younger Lily (Isabelle Nelisse) now six, are malnourished, extremely dirty, cannot communicate very well, and seem to see and talk to an entity that they call "Mama." Lucas wants to take care of the girls as his own, but might have trouble getting a judge to allow that due to his financial troubles. However, Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) will help Lucas win custody if he agrees to allow the two girls to see him for psychiatric treatment almost every day in order to return them to normal society. But unbeknownst to everyone, the mysterious 'Mama' has followed the two girls to their new home and is not ready to let go of them that easily.
There are images in this film that are downright disturbing. Frighting enough to make you keep a light on in the room when you sleep. The Muschietti siblings did an amazing job in creating the monster. They used a cross between practical effects and CG with a heavier dose on the practical side. The results are truly terrifying and very realistic. One reason the monster looks so scary is that they used actor Javier Botet (Mama) who can be described as having one of the creepiest bodies in human history. The way he can manipulate his body to produce scares will make you cover your eyes.
In addition to the monster, this genre picture tells a good story of sacrifice and love. As the film goes on, we are given clues to the origins of Mama, with the hows and whys of her motifs and state-of-being in the real world. Sure, some might not want an origin or reason for a monster being a monster. They may just want a horror film with a villain with no explanation that jumps from kill to kill, but what makes this work so well is its character development and its twists and turns which end in an unpredictable climax that I didn't see coming. It was a breath of fresh air.
Coster-Waldau, who plays Jamie Lannister on HBO's 'Game of Thrones' is amazing in his role, even if his screen time isn't as much as the other actors. Chastain turns in an incredible performance in short jet black hair and convinces us not to like her, then suddenly fall in love with her. She has her flaws and her strengths, which make us relate to her throughout the film. Charpentier and Nelisse's performances deserve awards. These two young actresses are outstanding.
'Mama' is a scary-as-hell horror movie with amazing acting, a great script, and enough suspense and scares to raise your blood pressure and cause nightmares. This is a fresh journey into the horror genre, one that will leave you wanting more. Highly recommended.
'Mama' has a great 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The image looks gorgeous throughout the 100 minute run-time, with the flesh tones looking natural and smooth. The detail is crisp, with very clean closeups. The colors are well saturated and quite bold, especially in the interiors of the house. During some of the night time scenes, the grays and blacks are more pronounced, which gives the image a decayed look.
The black levels are deep and inky and everything seems to be true to its source. I did not notice any banding, aliasing, or artifacts. This is an outstanding video presentation for a small horror movie and just adds that much more to the film.
This release comes with an impressive DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix that packs a serious punch. When watching horror movies, you want your audio to slowly build, add some creepy surround ambient noises, and then pack a loud kick to make you jump out of your seat. This is what 'Mama' does to a tee. The dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to understand. Even the tiny whispers can be heard clearly and are haunting all the same.
The ambient noises of nature and the creature that goes bump in the night sound prefect coming through the surrounds with some very good directionality. At one point I had to check to see if there wasn't something scary standing right behind me, because the sound this track boasts will make you contemplate if you are alone or not. The score does an amazing job here as well providing a very eerie tone with some loud and harsh crescendos to keep you on the edge of your seat. This is a fantastic audio presentation.
'Mama' is scary-as-hell. I can't wait to watch this again with the lights turned out at midnight with friends who have not had the pleasure of seeing this fine horror film. The acting and story are phenomenal, and the scares come often. The video is great and the audio delivers on every level. The extras are top notch and are even re-watchable. Seek this movie out and don't think twice about purchasing it. Highly recommended.