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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Mama

May 5th, 2013

Mama - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

January is generally a terrible time of the year to release a movie. Not only are people still dealing with Christmas shopping bills, but there will be several Oscar contenders and holiday blockbusters that are still going strong. Because of this, January tends to be filled with bad films that struggle just to become midlevel hits. Mama opened in the middle of the month and earned enough during its opening weekend to cover its production budget. Worldwide, it managed $130 million on just a $15 million budget. Unless it cost an unreasonable amount to market, it has already broken even. Will it be an ever bigger hit on the home market?

The Movie

The film begins with us hearing a new report over the radio. The market has crashed and people are losing everything, one of them, Jeffrey Desange, ends up on a murder / suicide rampage killing one person at his work and critically wounding another. He then goes to his ex-wife's house, murders her, and then kidnaps his two young children, Victoria and Lilly. He takes them up a mountain, only to lose control and crash. The three of them survive and make it to a cabin in the woods, but when Jeffrey prepares to kill his two daughters, something sneaks up behind him and kills him. The two girls are left alone in the cabin, but something gives them a cherry to eat.

We flash forward five years to Lucas Desange, Jeffery's twin brother. He has been financing a search for his brother and his two nieces for all of these years, but he's quickly running out of money. It's a good thing his girlfriend, Annabel, isn't pregnant. It is also fortunate that his two trackers, Burnsie and Ron, finally find what they are have been looking for. Not only do they find the cabin, but they find Victoria and Lilly, now eight and six respectively. The girls have resorted to a feral nature and are brought to Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss. At first the reunion between Lucas and the girls doesn't go so well, but when Lucas gives Victoria a pair of glasses and Victoria sees Lucas clearly, she recognizes him as her father.

The happy family reunion is short-lived, as Jean Podolski, Jeffrey Desange's aunt-in-law, sues for custody. Dr. Dreyfuss makes it clear to Lucas and Annabel that Jean's the better caregiver. She certainly has more money to provide a better home for the girls than do Lucas, an artist, and Annabel, a bassist in a punk band. However, he doesn't want the girls to leave either. He wants to continue to see them and use them as a case study. He makes a deal. The four of them can stay in a house used for special cases, in return, he gets to treat them / study them. It seems like a sweet deal for Lucas and Annabel. It also pays off for Dr. Dreyfuss right away, as he learns a bit about Mama, although he at first dismissed it as an imaginary friend, but he decides to research further and discovers a mental patient named Edith Brennan that is similar to the stories the girls tell. Only Edith died in the 1800s.

There's a readjustment period for everyone involved. Annabel is a little weary of being a surrogate mother to two young girls. Victoria adjusts faster than Lilly does. She even recognizes her old dog, handsome. As she comes out of her shell, Lilly remains loyal to Mama. Mama also remains loyal to the two girls. She also becomes jealous of the girls' new family and attacks Lucas, which results in him falling down the stairs and landing in the hospital in a coma.

This leaves Annabel alone to take care of Victoria and Lilly. Of course, we know she's not truly alone.

This is another one of those films that is perfectly described by its Tomatometer Score. It earned 65% positive reviews, which are good, but not great. There are several things going for the film, including good mood, excellent acting, and a solid mystery. However, there are also a few things that hold it back, including the mystery. I know I put that on both lists, but hear me out. On the one hand, learning about the details of the titular Mama are interesting and add to the overall effectiveness of the movie. On the other hand, there is no mystery that Mama exists; we learn that in the prologue. I'm just not sure that was a wise choice. Perhaps if the audience was left in the dark a little bit more, the film would have been a little more scarey. I'm not sure how they could have done that with the setup, but that's another matter. There were also a few too many clich├ęs and jump scares in the film, which hurt the otherwise strong mood. That said, I did like how the film focused so much on Annabel dealing with becoming a mother-figure to two girls out of the blue and how difficult that would be. It is this part of the movie that helps it stand out the most, while Jessica Chastain is the biggest asset the film has. Her scenes, especially those with her two young costars, are the heart of the movie. Unfortunately, there are pacing issues while the ending is the weakest part of the movie. It is still worth checking out, but these problems reduce its replay value somewhat.

The Extras

Extras begin with an audio commentary with Andres Muschietti, the writer / director. There are also some deleted scenes with audio commentary and a making of featurette. The DVD also has as the original short that was the basis for this movie. The Blu-ray has all of this, plus a second making of featurette that focuses on the special effects.

The technical presentation is good, but not amazing. The film only cost $15 million to make, so you can't compare it to a $100 million summer blockbuster. Additionally, the colors are muted, but this was a stylistic choice. Other than that, it has good details, solid contrast, very deep blacks. (That last one it particularly important.) The audio is solid with very clearly dialogue, but there's not a lot of activity in the surround sound speakers, especially the bass.

The Blu-ray costs $4 or 22% more than the DVD over on, which is a good deal for this type of release.

The Verdict

Mama was one of the biggest surprise hits of the post-Christmas slump. It is a very good movie with acting that propels the film above some of the weaknesses. There are enough extras on the DVD and the Blu-ray Combo Pack to be worth picking up, with the latter being the better deal over the former.

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Filed under: Video Review, Mama, Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, David Fox, Daniel Kash, Domenic Cuzzocrea, Megan Charpentier, Andres Muschietti, Isabelle Nelisse, Jane Moffat, Morgan McGarry, Maya Dawe, Sierra Dawe