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Ma (2019)

June 20th, 2019 by unkle lancifer · No Comments

The latest Blumhouse offering MA is a bit of an emotional pinball machine. It delivers some smart suspense, some genuine creeps and still finds time to be regularly hilarious (if you have a dark sense of humor) and strangely sad. I’m a big fan of horror character studies, revenge flicks and “person from hell” movies (FATAL ATTRACTION, THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, SINGLE WHITE FEMALE) and MA fits the bill on all accounts. It’s kind of like a multi-generational version of LUCKY McKEE’s MAY albeit more grounded and less stylized. By the end of the movie not every puzzle piece fits into place as tightly as I wanted them to but it’s a thoroughly entertaining ride nonetheless. I found it hard not to empathize with the title character even as she was wreaking havoc upon innocent people. There’s just something so cathartic about watching a person go full blown psycho about past grievances and both dreading and sadistically looking forward to the results (De PALMA’s CARRIE still stands as the greatest example of this). As much of this cinematic mousetrap is traceable and familiar, I’m happy to say MA brings a fair share of fresh themes and a uniquely uncomfortable tone to the table as well.

OCTAVIA SPENCER excels as Sue Ann/Ma, a role that seems tailor made for her. She’s subtle, straightforward and never over the top as a mature woman who is coaxed by an amiable group of underage teens to buy them alcohol. When Sue Ann recognizes one of the young folk as the child of her unrequited/abusive high school crush she offers up her basement as a safe place to party and casually integrates into an integral part of the gang’s clandestine activities. On the surface, her character’s increasingly demented behavior appears spurred by a cruel prank from her youth but on another level I think it’s much bigger than that. I almost get the sense that Sue Ann is raging against youth itself or at least the youth that she had lost to being an awkward outsider that never fit in. Witnessing a group of people getting along and having fun reminds her of the carefree life she was denied whether it was because of her gawkiness or because she was the lone black student in her school.

Basically no one is spared her wrath, not the man from her past that betrayed her, not the kids that symbolize all she missed out on and certainly not the boss that constantly berates her. We even come to find that she’s spitefully determined to make sure that her offspring is hammered into an equally unsatisfying existence. Ma is FOMO personified and brandishing very sharp teeth.

What saves Ma from being yet another obsessed stalker Lifetime movie is SCOTTY LANDES witty, aware script, TATE TAYLOR’s confident direction (he’s also great as the local cop) and most importantly, the cast. SPENCER, as mentioned, is gold in the title role but I can’t think of anyone in the cast who doesn’t deliver the goods and then some. JULIETTE LEWIS gets a surprisingly meaty part as a concerned mother and rather than being merely a scolding obstacle like in most teen movies, she’s the many shaded, grounding anchor of normalcy for the entire picture. ALLISON JANNEY and MISSI PYLE both play aggressively nightmarish people who practically beg to have horrible things happen to them and they both excel at their atrociousness. LUKE EVANS is impressive as well as the untrustworthy object of affection for Ma. Surprisingly I liked all the youngins too and each of them is given a chance to shine and have identifiable personalities of their own. I know folks usually don’t go to see horror movies for the acting but in this case it’s actually not a bad idea.

Although MA plays it mostly straight and its dark humor leans toward the situational, there’s an inescapable camp quality to it but I think you could say that about all of the loner revenge films mentioned previously as well. The film operates on several levels at once and can be taken in as seriously as the viewer desires. That said, the best way to view something like this is with a vocal audience in a movie theater or with intoxicated like-minded folks at home (don’t be surprised if you hear references to Ma’s line “Don’t make me drink alone” for the rest of your life).  Sure, I was left with a few questions and I desired one last twist that never came to fruition (and I could have used way more flashbacks to the eighties) but overall, I couldn’t help but get wrapped up in all the social disasters on display. As someone who’s roughly the same age as Ma it wasn’t hard to sympathize with her plight but I found it just as easy to feel akin to the group of teens looking for a safe place to congregate. Ultimately my favorite aspect of MA is that although it’s short lived, when things are going well, before the other shoe drops, it delivers the simple vicarious fun of partying and letting loose- at any age. MA has got her problems but who cares when she also knows the perfect time to break out “the robot” dance.

Tags: General Horror




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