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Ma (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 1, 2020


MA (2019)

Starring Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Corey Fogelmanis, McKaley Miller, Juliette Lewis, Luke Evans, Missi Pyle, Marjay Ross, Gianni Paolo, Dante Brown, Tanyell Waivers, Dominic Burgess, Heather Marie Pate, Margaret Fegan, Kyanna Simone Simpson, Skyler Joy, Andrew Matthew Welch, Nicole Carpenter, Tate Taylor and Allison Janney.

Screenplay by Scotty Landes and Tate Taylor.

Directed by Tate Taylor.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 99 minutes. Rated R.

I’m not sure if Ma is trying to be a legit horror film, or a parody of a horror film. Maybe it’s both. Maybe it doesn’t even matter.

Ma is batshit crazy – both the character and the movie – but it’s also undeniably pulpy fun.

Honestly Octavia Spencer is way too good an actress to be playing the bogeyman (bogeywoman?) in a teen slasher thriller, but props to her, she pulls it off with style.

And surprisingly Tate Taylor – a journeyman director who has a (perhaps undeserved) pedigree for making such serious (if not very good) movies as The Help, Get On Up and the somewhat botched adaptation of the best seller The Girl on the Train – has made probably his best movie, simply because he makes no pretense to art.

Ma is junk food, but like junk food, it can be very satisfying when you are hungry. Ma is a pulp horror film, and if you don’t stop and think of the massive plot holes it’s a pretty entertaining b-chiller.

Hell, they even gave a (sorta) serious dramatic role to Missi Pyle. It doesn’t get cheesier than that.

Part of what makes Sue Ann, aka Ma (played by Spencer), so scary is how normal she seems on the surface. She seems to be a friendly, smart and funny woman, but the more you get to know her, and the more you look into her eyes, the more obviously off she is. By the time people realize how insane she really is, it’s usually too late.

We first meet Sue Ann when she is walking a dog past a liquor store. Some high school kids approach her, asking her to buy them some booze. At first, she sensibly turns them down, but then has a change of heart when she sees that one of the boys is the son of a guy she knew in high school. She gets them a whole box full of the stuff so they can go drink at the local make-out spot. Then she anonymously narcs them out to his dad.

The kids come back to her the next week, looking for more booze. She agrees to buy it and suggests that they should drink in her basement for safety sake. These meetings become regular and become the biggest bashes in the area, with “Ma” acting as a good-natured master of ceremonies.

However, eventually the original core of kids realize that there is something a little odd and needy about her. Yes, even beyond the obvious point that she is a middle-aged woman partying with high school students.

She texts them dozens of times a day when they didn’t even give her their numbers. She shows up at school unannounced. She wants to party every night. She goes off on brief rages and becoming excessively apologetic afterwards. She even pulled a gun on one of the boys, though it turns out to be unloaded – a joke, she says.

Eventually we learn that Sue Ann was a shy girl who was bullied by the parents of her new young friends back when they were all in high school. And, it seems, perhaps she may be trying to get some revenge on the parents through the kids.

Which, honestly, is kind of a sad motive. It’s like come on, it’s been over 30 years. (They show pages from Sue Ann’s yearbook and she was in the class of 1987.) Get on with your life. Kids in high school and middle school are fucking assholes. We all dealt with it, though in fairness it does turn out that Sue Ann did have a particularly mean prank played on her.

But okay, say Sue Ann has been nursing this grudge since high school. Why did it take her over 30 years to act on it? She’s been living in the same town with most of the same people for all her life. She freely admits that while she is not close with anyone from high school, she runs into people from time to time. What was it that set her off now?

For that matter, why is she blaming the kids for their parents’ sins? It does appear that she met their kids by chance. Also, how is it that these 50-ish former classmates all have children who are 16-year-old juniors in high school? Did all the parents make some sort of weird pact to have children at 34?

Well, like I said earlier, if you start pulling on plot threads the whole thing will all fall apart. But if you take Ma at face value and accept the premise, it’s a pretty chilling and often surprisingly funny film.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: May 31, 2019.

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