I can see why Guillermo Del Toro would be attracted to a film like “Mama.” While it is a horror film in nature, deep down it is a tragic drama about the power of love and the lengths we’ll go to preserve it. “Mama” is the first fantastic film I’ve seen in 2013, a film about spirits and how immense love can be. After their dad murders their mother in a murderous rage, sisters Lily and Victoria are taken to an abandoned cabin where their father looks to mercifully murder them. There, they’ve found something that is not only intent on keeping them safe, but in maintaining their innocence. Years later, the daughters are discovered much older and in a feral state, clinging to a presence they call Mama. Their uncle Luke and aunt Annabel seek to take them back home and establish a life free from the pain of their original lives. But the girls find it impossible not only to adjust, but to display physical affection toward the young couple. Jessica Chastain gives a strong performance as the unkempt Annabel who finds her loyalties lying with her husband Luke when he fights to take care of his nieces Victoria and Lily, and transforms in to a bonafide mother figure of their very own.
Much to the anger of the unseen entity hiding in the shadows, Annabel is forced to confront the unease of the young girls while attempting to unravel their own habit for alienation and solitude. Chastain is a great heroine, providing a strong moral center and a gradual and pleasing development of her very own amidst the carnage that the dark entity lurking the family’s house begins to wreak. To boot Annabel and Luke have to endure the insistence of a distant relative who wants the girls for herself, and seems hellbent on bringing them to her own home, which creates a sense of ambiguity for much of the early part of the film. Sure, by the final half it becomes inherently clear what is happening to the family and the young girls, but many story elements are left unanswered for the sake of mystery. Did Victoria really channel the presence of mama? Did Mama follow the girls or did they call them to her? Did Victoria or Lily have a power over Mama that allowed her to act so aggressively? And what was channeling the answers to minds of Luke and Annabel throughout the course of the story? Did Lily empower Mama while Victoria rebelled, offering her new adult guardians a chance to fight back?
Per the territory of Guillermo Del Toro, “Mama” is as much a glimpse at the power of love, as it is the relentleesness of it, and much of “Mama” revolves around the young girls finding a new life and trying to decide if Mama has any place in it. Director Andrés Muschietti does a fantastic job of unfolding the tension and suspense of his film, extending the narrative while bringing us in to a world where love is boundless. Even by death. There are moments of pure horror dripping within the narrative, while also providing reasons for the ultimate unleashing of the darkness with an emphasis on loss, and loneliness, and the bonds that can be broken as people grow up and grow apart. Director Andrés Muschietti thankfully keeps much of the villain completely up to our imagination, offering glimpses and mere instances of the specter that lurks in the house, and then only reveals the being when it’s important to the resolution of the story. “Mama” is a creepy and often heartbreaking look at family and how it can empower good. And pure evil.
For the Blu-Ray/DVD Release, we’re given an audio commentary with brother and sister directing and writing duo Andy and Barbara Muschietti, as they dive head first in to “Mama” exploring meaning of scenes, subtext, the performances, the atmosphere and the visual effects. It’s a really spirited commentary for fans of the movie from enthusiastic movie makers. There’s the five minute original short of “Mama” that became a hit causing Guillermo Del Toro to help fund a feature length version of it. With an introduction from Del Toro, there’s also an optional commentary from Andy and Barbara Muschietti who created the film. “The Birth of Mama” is a ten minute behind the scenes look at the creation of the film, with interviews with Del Toro, and the original cast and crew. “Matriarchal Secrets: The Visual Effects of Mama” is a six minute look at the startling special effects of Mama, exploring how they created the specter on-screen with a combination of traditional make up and prosthetics along with CGI. Finally, there’s eight minutes of deleted scenes with optional crew commentary.