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Mama: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + UltraViolet Review

Mama (2013) movie poster Mama

Theatrical Release: January 18, 2013 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Andy Muschietti / Writers: Andy Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti (story & screenplay); Neil Cross (screenplay)

Cast: Jessica Chastain (Annabel Moore), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Lucas Desange, Jeffrey Desange), Megan Charpentier (Victoria Desange), Isabelle Nelisse (Lilly Desange), Daniel Kash (Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss), Javier Botet (Mama), Jane Moffat (Jean Podolski, Mama voice), Morgan McGarry (Young Victoria Desange), Maya Dawe (Young Lilly Desange), David Fox (Burnsie), Domenic Cuzzocrea (Ron), Sierra Dawe (Young Lilly Desange)

Buy Mama from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + DC + UV • DVD • Instant Video

As amazing as Jessica Chastain's amazing overnight 2011 transformation from nobody to one of Hollywood's pre-eminent actresses is the reality that just about every movie she's done since then has won overwhelming critical support. They've been a diverse bunch of films, from Shakespeare to Terrence Malick to a DreamWorks animated sequel.
And yet all but one film since her arrival (the barely theatrical Texas Killing Fields) have earned fresh classification over at Rotten Tomatoes. Even Mama, a horror film released in the dumping grounds of January, somehow ended up with a ripe red tomato and not a green splat.

Mama is perhaps the closest we've gotten to a Jessica Chastain vehicle. The actress gets top billing above-the-line and is probably the only cast member you'll recognize here.

The film opens with radio reports of an economic collapse having tragic consequences for corporate executives. We see first-hand one of those, as a distressed man (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) takes his two young daughters out for an aimless, snowy drive. We later learn he is in the process of a murder-suicide, although we jump ahead five years later and no bodies have been found. The man's brother, Lucas (also Coster-Waldau), has not given up the search, bankrolling some hunters to the depletion of his checking account. Lucas' dark-haired, tattooed live-in girlfriend Annabel (Chastain) supports his need for closure, but neither her rock band nor his artwork is likely to sustain them very long.

The jaws of Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse) and Annabel (Jessica Chastain) drop as they get a clear look at Mama.

Then, Lucas gets a call. The two girls have been found alive in a cabin, where they have devolved into a feral survivor mode. Uncle Luke and Annabel make a play for custody and win it, over objections from the girls' deceased mother's sister (Jane Moffat).

The standoffish Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and fearful Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse) do not take to their new guardians warmly. Their closely supervising therapist (Daniel Kash) claims they are suffering from dissociative personality disorder, but at the same time he is looking into their fascinating claims of "Mama", a figure who supposedly looked after them who claimed to have escaped from an insane asylum that closed in the late 1800s. This titular "Mama" now assumes a shady, otherworldly presence with an apparently open line of communication to the kids.

As the film's marketing emphasized, Mama comes from Guillermo del Toro. As just executive producer, though, del Toro's name seems to carry more weight than it should, since he's lent it to plenty an underwhelming genre film (e.g. Splice, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark) while actually directing just a handful of okay films besides the revered Pan's Labyrinth. Without even a story credit, his involvement here is limited and his production design-oriented touch isn't even felt. That isn't a bad thing because the brother and sister team behind this film, director-writer Andy Muschietti and writer-producer Barbra Muschietti, are adapting this from their 2008 Spanish short and are committed to making their feature debut the promising start to long careers.

Despite the fact that he looks just like their homicidal father, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) expects to be a fun uncle to his young nieces. Just look at all the fun that Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse) are having.

The Muschiettis have a decent amount of success, too, developing a story that is both unsettling and not glaringly derivative or familiar. That is a rare combination to pull off in a genre that rarely fulfills creatively. And even if you aren't still onboard with Mama by its end when it resolves its plot with big, dark sequences and visual effects, you probably have been for the eighty minutes or so leading up to it,
intrigued by its material and not certain where the movie is heading.

Though horror isn't a genre where the acting often wins notice, Chastain deserves credit for not treating this like a mindless paycheck. She demonstrates her range by convincingly playing a character unlike any she's played before. In an industry that has few substantial roles for women, it is nothing short of astonishing that Chastain has been able to work so much over the past few years in so many genres without yet being pigeonholed to a type. While her performance here is expectedly secondary to the supernatural suspenseful thrills, it anchors the film nicely and gives it some class, having picked up her Zero Dark Thirty Best Actress Oscar nomination eight days before this opened, without any shred of Norbit-type backlash.

Reinforcing past years' lessons on the commercial viability of January horror releases, Mama grossed a very respectable $71.6 million at the box office. That placed it at the high end for its genre and on a reported production budget of just $15 M. On Tuesday, Universal brings the film to DVD and in one of their now-standard two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + UltraViolet combo packs, the latter of which we review here.

Mama: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + UltraViolet combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (English), 5.1 DTS-HD (Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish); Both: Dolby Surround (Descriptive Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French
Video Extras Subtitled; DVD Closed Captioned
Release Date: May 7, 2013
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98 (Reduced from $34.98)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed, Textured Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.98 $14.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Mama's Blu-ray presentation leaves absolutely nothing to be desired. The 1.85:1 picture is perfect, staying sharp, clean, and well-defined through scenes of low light and heavy action. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is suitably lively, distributing atmosphere, dialogue, score, and effects with enjoyable clarity and directionality.

"Mamα", the original 2008 short on which "Mama" is based in presented in its 3-minute entirety. A colleague questions the motives of Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) in this deleted scene.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with an audio commentary by Andy and Barbara Muschietti. They fill the track with remarks about what is onscreen often on the specifics of filming, but with much less excitement than you expect of first-time feature filmmakers. In short, you'll lose 100 minutes and gain little by listening to this.

Next, we get Mamα, the original 2008 short on which the film is based. Presenting a simple serving of the same concept in Spanish with English subtitles, it runs 4 minutes and 32 seconds counting a 70-second introduction by Guillermo del Toro. It can also be viewed with commentary by the Muschiettis.

Six deleted scenes (7:31) are also presented with optional commentary by the Muschietti siblings. They include some meaningful moments that question Annabel's qualifications and Dr. Dreyfuss' motivations, while also adding to the film's "Mama" and F-bomb counts.

Only on a horror movie set can you find Jessica Chastain consulting with director Andy Muschietti without any acknowledgement of the creepy giant in the room. Mama (Javier Botet) gets made-up in "Matriarchal Secrets."

"The Birth of Mama" (9:38) is a general making-of featurette that spends much of its time addressing the expansion from short to feature film. Comments from del Toro, Chastain, and other cast and crew

complement some worthwhile behind-the-scenes footage.

Finally, the Blu-ray exclusive "Matriarchal Secrets: The Visual Effects of Mama" (6:00) offers some dissection of the film's make-up, prosthetic, and digital effects.

The same DVD sold on its own, this combo's second disc includes everything but "Matriarchal Secrets."

The Blu-ray tried and failed to stream some disc-opening trailers. At its start, the DVD plays trailers for Dead in Tombstone, Side Effects, and "Grimm." Its Previews menu adds ads for The Unborn, White Noise, My Soul to Take, Dream House, The Strangers, The Fourth Kind, and The Last House on the Left (2009).

The Blu-ray's ordinary menu plays scored action clips under a deactivatable ticker and side listings. The DVD uses the montage minus the ticker and side bar. For some reason, we have to endure three iterations of the Universal logo before the film actually starts. The Blu-ray neither supports bookmarks, nor resumes playback. It does, however, offer uHear, a nifty one-button way to check on a line you missed.

The lone insert within the nicely slipcovered keepcase supplies your combination UltraViolet and digital copy authorization code while advertising Universal Classic Monster Blu-rays on back.

When hospitalized, it's never good to see your EKG display MAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMA...

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Judged by the low standards of a January horror movie, Mama is better than expected and a decent thriller that holds interest with a compellingly-presented story. It falls apart some at its end, but that's practically inevitable for such fare.

Universal's combo pack delivers an outstanding feature presentation and a decent collection of extras. You needn't be a genre devotee to find this reasonably worthy of your time.

Buy Mama from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + UltraViolet / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Jessica Chastain: Zero Dark Thirty • Lawless • Take Shelter • The Tree of Life • The Help • Coriolanus • Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted
New: Thale • Gangster Squad • Jack Reacher • Silver Linings Playbook • The Impossible • The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernαndez
Orphan • Case 39 • Joshua • Insidious • The Possession | Produced by Guillermo del Toro: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
January Movies: The Devil Inside • Cloverfield • Paul Blart: Mall Cop • The Green Hornet • The Rite • Season of the Witch • The Uninvited

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Reviewed May 3, 2013.



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