Mama – DVD Review


Once upon a time a father killed his wife and drove his car off the road with his two young daughters inside. The two young girls survive the crash, and a further attempt on their lives by their father, and live in the all too familiar cabin in the woods for five years before they are discovered by an incredibly inefficient search party. In the intervening years the girls have been cared for by a mysterious apparition they call Mama and have become feral in the manner that it more familiar in teenage boys than prepubescent girls. The girls move in with their uncle, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister to you and me), and his girlfriend, Jessica Chastain in unconvincing goth garb, and try to settle into regular life while Mama pays them visits and generally gets up in everyone’s business.

As a horror called “Bloody scary” by The Sun, “A superior supernatural shocker” by the Daily Express, and with Guillermo del Toro producing and “presenting” the film I was expecting the film leave me petrified. I am notoriously susceptible to horror films and have screamed my way through the weakest of scares but Mama did nothing for me. It elicits more yawns than screams and I was falling asleep towards the end. I realise I am prone to napping when films get too long but with a running time of just 100 minutes I should have been able to remain conscious throughout. I don’t mean to besmirch the good name of The Sun and the Daily Express but either their comments were taken out of context or they have a lower fear threshold than even me.

Mama 2

There are a few good creepy moments: The girls do some good creepy crawling and scuttling before they regain their ability to walk on two feet and there is a scene in which a flashbulb is used as a form of self-defence which reminded me of the only good moment in Apollo 18 which should otherwise be avoided at all costs. Mama herself is not an inherently scary figure. Her long reaching arms reminded me in a distraction fashion of an old Dead Ringers impression of Andrew Marr and a lot of the time the family seemed to be haunted more by persistent damp than a benevolent spirit.

The ending was briefly a pleasant surprise before becoming slightly ridiculous; a brief glimmer of hope amongst a dark and dreary mess. I didn’t care about any of the characters so even if the film had managed to properly scare me I wouldn’t have actually been worried for their safety. Coster-Waldau came across as an ignorant fool while Chastain seemingly forgot how to act and it was hard to believe that she is currently at the peak of her Oscar nominated career. As for Guillermo del Toro… I once saw his name as a mark of quality but now it is as redundant as a foreword by Stephen Fry – every book has one and the quality is far from consistent.

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Mama is available to buy on both DVD and Blu-ray from today. The DVD version of the film has no extras to speak of whereas the Blu-ray features a commentary, various featurettes, and the original short film. I’d say this would be a reason to go for the Blu-ray but honestly you’d be better off buying Pan’s Labyrinth instead as it is both better and cheaper.

One best left as a last resort watch. Writer/director Andrés Muschietti has a lot to learn.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Film Review

The Hobbit

As Frodo and Bilbo Baggins prepare for a party Bilbo reminisces about an adventure from his past. Sixty years previously Bilbo was reluctantly recruited by the wizard Gandalf to join a troupe of dwarves on a journey to reclaim their kingdom from the fearsome dragon Smaug. The hobbit and dwarves set off for their destination after some partying (and two songs), encounter trolls, orcs, elves, and goblins along the way and after 169 minutes have yet to even arrive.

That’s right. In a film adaptation of a book subtitled There and Back Again this first film of three compiling to make The Hobbit doesn’t manage to complete the “There” let alone the “and Back Again“. It’s a debate I continue to have with myself as to whether films in a trilogy should be able to stand on their own as three single films rather than having to coexist to remain coherent. An Unexpected Journey is very much a set-up followed by some set pieces rather than a film in its own right. As the credits rolled on what had been an enjoyable film (more of that shortly) I couldn’t help but feel slightly cheated that I would have to wait another 12 months before I got to even see them arrive at their destination.

All that aside An Unexpected Journey is an enjoyable film. It looks gorgeous and is filled with plenty of laughs, epic landscapes, and more fights than you can shake an oversized wizard’s staff at. What An Unexpected Journey is not is in any way unexpected. There are no surprises. The whole event felt incredibly familiar as it maintained the style and tone of The Lord of the Rings. Watching a hobbit set off on an epic quest surrounded by a gang of strangers who do a lot of walking occasionally interrupted by fights along the way and flashbacks to large battles starts to feel like deja vu on an unprecedented scale. An Unexpected Journey is more Delia Smith than Heston Blumenthal; you get what you expect and enjoy it but at no point is your breath taken away.

The cast are all perfectly functional and highly recognisable. Anyone who has sufficient years of UK TV watching behind them will spend the 2.82 hours trying to place the familiar faces behind dwarf prosthetics. Ian McKellen remains fantastic as Gandalf and Martin Freeman reprises his reluctant traveller persona from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Luckily Freeman perfectly fits the character of Bilbo so there was no need for him to get wildly experimental and I couldn’t imagine a more hobbity performance.

Now how about the 3D and the 48 frames per second I hear you nerds ask? As a bit of a 3D-phobic let it be taken as a huge compliment when I describe the 3D as unobtrusive. It added little to the action sequences and at times made any background CGI a little flat but it didn’t make any images double up or blur. In static shots where my eyes had a chance to absorb all the dimensions/frames/pixels/whatever the image was so perfectly realised that it looked genuinely real. A shot of Bilbo sitting at his desk writing was so well captured that I felt I could have walked up and knocked over his ink well. Whether you want such realism in a fantasy film is another debate – one I will slyly run away from at this point. The film looked great and my only complaint would be that wearing glasses over my glasses can get tiresome as a film enters its third hour.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is going to be a real thrill for any fan of Lord of the Rings simply because it so closely resembles its predecessors. On the same note however anyone who would rather never set foot in Middle Earth again is not going to find themselves changing their mind with this outing of more of the same. An Unexpected Journey is a lot of fun and stands out as a rare fantasy epic in a year where superheroes trying to stick to gritty realism have dominated. I look forward to the next two sequels both because I liked this outing but also because it didn’t contain enough of a story to suffice.

P.S. Gollum has never looked better.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – Review

In Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark young Sally (Bailee Madison) moves in with her father (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes) into the old mansion they are renovating. Excited by the presence of a child the things that go bump in the basement start to stir.

Here we have a horror film not relying on excessive gore, violence or loud noises for its scares, though these elements can still be found. Don’t be Afraid of the Dark instead played on my worst fear, that there’s something lurking in the dark that I can’t see. As a result there were moments of genuinely terror, proven by the fact that I spent most of the film with my coat up to my neck for protection. Worth noting though that I am a wimp when it comes to horror films, which is precisely why I enjoy them so much.

Being “presented” by Guillermo del Toro does not result in the visual feast of originality we’ve come to expect through films like Pan’s Labyrinth or even The Orphanage. Instead Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark falls into the familiar formula as Sally is repeatedly ignored by her parents despite increasing evidence that she may be telling the truth. The fact that Guy Pearce continues to deny any spooky goings on after a worker comes out of the basement with more than five objects sticking out of his neck, claiming to have had an accident, is plain stupid.

Bailee Madison is fantastic as the young girl at the centre of the trouble but sadly Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes gave much more wooden performances. Pearce has done so many better roles recently you can tell he’s not really trying and Holmes is probably just out of practise.

Good for an occasional scare but it won’t change the way you think about horror. I’ll admit to feeling a bit jumpy after the screening, but then you should see me watch [Rec], that’s a whole different league of terror.


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