During the dead of winter we don’t always want to head out to the movie theatre, but now that spring is blooming with warmer days ahead, everything you missed during the colder months is now available on DVD, Blu-ray or on demand. And this week we get Mama; a creepy little thriller presented by Guillermo del Toro that will sink into your skin.
Sisters Victoria and Lilly vanished from their suburban neighborhood without a trace five years ago. Since then, their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his rocker girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) have been madly searching for them. But when, incredibly, the kids are found alive in a decrepit cabin, the couple wonders if the girls are the only guests they have welcomed into their home. As Annabel tries to introduce the children to a normal life, she grows convinced of an evil presence in their house. Are the sisters experiencing traumatic stress, or is a ghost coming to visit them? How did the broken girls survive those years all alone? As she answers these disturbing questions, the new mother will find that the whispers she hears at bedtime are coming from the lips of an unknown presence.
It’s always a pleasant surprise when the lazy tactics of blood and gore that are common in a lot of horror films are replaced with a deliberate and purposeful effort to create mood and suspense in a movie. And Mama actually succeeds at times in genuinely creeping us out.
For his first feature, director Andres Muschetti expands upon his very own short film on which the film is based. Muschetti does a great job at establishing mood and tone as we are slowly, but surely drawn into this world. Discovered by Guillermo del Toro, Muschetti is an effective auteur and solid storyteller as the slow burning tension that he creates is effective and it shows real skill behind the lens, making any narrative flaws easier to overlook in an incredibly effective overall package.
The visual effects were strong and despite the occasional logic oversight, nothing that happens ever takes us out of the story. The film is more psychologically and thought provokingly scary rather than being the kind of story with the standard jump scares. It manages to keep us engaged in the entire proceedings with solid performances from the cast.
Chastain slides into the standard scream queen archetype and molds the part into something of her own creation that actually works quite well. Her character slowly evolves from a freewheeling spirit to someone who will sacrifice in order to protect their family. The more she interacts with the two girls, the dread mounts and as her character slowly suspects that they have bigger problems then could have been imagined, we as an audience go deeper and deeper into these dark and creepy moments. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays handsome and square jawed as well as the rest of them and the two young girls — Isabelle Nelisse and Megan Charpentier — were effective as the children rescued from the mysteries of the woods that they were lost in. Sadly, the ensemble drops off dramatically after that as some of the characters either had nothing to do or were just kind of laughable. However, it really doesn’t matter as the core of the film rests with Chastain and she takes the material afforded her in the script and makes it her own in a fine performance.
Picture and sound on this Blu-ray are top notch as expected and the special features include interviews, clips, three behind the scenes looks at the making of Mama, deleted scenes with optional audio commentary, the original Mama short film with optional audio commentary and a feature length audio commentary with the film crew.
Mama isn’t a film for those looking for the lowest common denominator thrills, but for those who are looking for something that delivers thoughtful thrills on a slow building burn that puts storytelling ahead of random jump scares.
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau,
Directed by: Andres Muschetti
Top image: A scene from Mama. Courtesy of eOne Films.