Movie Review: Ma (2019)

Is it just me or are we seeing more horror/thriller films on the big screen these days? I’m not complaining as the new generation of filmmakers in this genre (like Jordan Peele and Ari Aster, to name two) are coming up with pretty enjoyable fare and often starring some big names in Hollywood. Director Tate Taylor (THE HELP; THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN) is the latest filmmaker to jump on the horror/thriller bandwagon, and to do it he reunited with Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer (INSTANT FAMILY; THE SHAPE OF WATER; HIDDEN FIGURES; FATHERS & DAUGHTERS) to bring audiences a creepy tale of a woman who never got over a teenage trauma.

As MA opens, divorced mom Erica Thompson (Juliette Lewis, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY) and her teenage daughter Maggie (Diana Silvers, BOOKSMART) are heading back to Erica’s hometown in Ohio to start the next chapter of their lives. While Erica busies herself in her new job as a waitress at a local casino, Maggie easily falls in with the popular kids at school. One day while Maggie is hanging out with her new friends, they decide to ask an adult to buy some alcohol for them so they can drink it at an abandoned worksite. Sue Ann Ellington, a dowdy veterinary assistant, agrees to do it on the condition that they do their drinking in her basement instead. The teens accept the woman’s offer and the arrangement starts off well but it doesn’t take long before Sue Ann’s needy behaviour starts getting the kids slightly concerned. The lure of a seemingly safe environment to do their under-age drinking away from parental authorities and the police is just too precious to them though… until it isn’t, particularly for Maggie who starts to unravel Sue Ann’s true motivation for wanting to be popular with the cool kids.

MA is a lot more enjoyable that it has any right to be thanks to the performance of Spencer who is able to go from being warm and friendly to menacing with just a look. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Scotty Landes (TV’s WORKAHOLICS) doesn’t do her immense talent justice as the plot plays like a first draft with more holes than a golf course. This group of teens must be the only kids their age in America who haven’t put privacy controls on their social media accounts, for a start. Then there’s the whole question of how not one responsible adult in this small town knows about Sue Ann’s basement parties, which seem to take place on school nights. Judging from the sheer volume of the kids’ Instagram and Snapchat posts, it should have been national news. The bigger problem with this film, though, is that the wackiness doesn’t go far enough. In typical fashion for this genre, the film’s third act is completely bonkers with Sue Ann seeking revenge on anyone and everyone who had ever pissed her off, but rather than going to those really nasty places where the story should go, Taylor pulls back at the brink or worse, shows the result of her efforts but not the action.

As disappointing as it is, MA is definitely a fun way to spend a hundred minutes though. My audience was laughing and wincing with alternating regularity throughout. If you go into the film with low expectations as I did, you’ll be pleasantly surprised but MA could have been a whole lot better than it was.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, July 19th, 8:30 am HK time!

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