Mama [Blu-Ray] Andres Muschietti

Mama [Blu-Ray] Andres Muschietti
7
Mama almost hits the sweet spot between scares and character that gives the audience the adrenaline surge they seek while still telling a story with emotional resonance. It's creepier than a back rub from a vagrant in a Santa suit — more unsettling than terrifying — but while Andres Muschietti's first feature film doesn't exactly err on the side of character, it's the side of the picture that works most successfully. Trusting Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) to carry a movie is an increasingly safe bet and a strong assist from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Headhunters, Game of Thrones) ensures that this classy, atmospheric ghost story doesn't want for acting ability. Muschietti and his co-writer/producer sister Barbra even lucked-out with the child actors: the two little girls at the heart of Mama fit comfortably into the roles of Victoria and Lilly. Almost as prominently as Chastain, Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse star as two sisters who survived in the woods for five years after being kidnapped by their father (the stock market crash made him go bonkers). Through an economical credit sequence we see hand drawn pictures of what the girls go through in those fives years, including images of a tall humanoid figure caring for them. We pick up with the now feral girls being found by trackers hired by the girls' uncle (Coster-Waldau). They move in with him and his extremely loyal punk rock bassist girlfriend, Annabel (Chastain). Having no desire to be a mother, Annabel is initially not a threat to the possessive entity that follows Victoria and Lilly to their new home, but as she warms to the idea of taking responsibility for the well being of another human, the mysterious Mama gets jealous. If you brushed this Guillermo del Toro production aside as just another spooky kid flick or were justifiably turned off by its association with the awful Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, rest assured: there's more thought behind Mama than the average horror film, and Muschietti has a great eye for shot construction. Rather than relying on jump scares, he sets up subtle scenes that plant a fertile patch for the willies. Further eschewing horror conventions, Annabel acts sensibly in relation to what we come to know about her character throughout the majority of the movie — if there's a potential intruder in the house, she'll grab a hammer; when Victoria tells her to not to touch the spooky closet door, she leaves it alone — and she has a distinct, confrontational personality type that isn't often featured in the genre. Both a subplot involving a prestige-hungry university professor and the confused spirit's backstory are not as engaging as the primary plight of forced motherhood, but they demonstrate the considerable thought that the Muschietti's put into fleshing out this world. The special features for the Blu-Ray release show more of this thoughtfulness, for the most part. There are short, but pointed interviews with the key contributors, some behind-the-scenes footage (literally, just raw HD on-set footage), deleted scenes with optional commentary (one of which answers a minor continuity question), the original three-minute short film, complete with commentary and an introduction by del Toro, as well as a section titled "Clips," which pointlessly seems to just be a collection of random scenes. The real goodies are in production feature "The Birth of Mama" and special effects walkthrough "Matriarchal Secrets," in which it's revealed that a great deal of the most disturbing physical aspects of the ghost were physically acted by the freakishly tall and skinny Javier Botet. The warped Modigliani painting design of the character's face doesn't hurt the mission to unsettle though. Unfortunately, there's nothing specific on the softly haunting score that's so integral to the movie's dark fairy-tale tone, but Andres does address it during his feature commentary with creative partner Barbara, demonstrating once again the specificity of the director's vision. (eOne)