Ma Movie Review
Written by Ryan Holloway
Released by Universal Pictures
Directed by Tate Taylor
Written by Scotty Landes
2019, 99 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Released on May 31st, 2019
Octavia Spencer as Sue Ann
Diana Silvers as Maggie
Juliette Lewis as Erica
McKaley Miller as Haley
Corey Fogelmanis as Andy
Gianna Paola as Chaz
Dante Brown as Darrell
Luke Evans as Ben
Missi Pyle as Mercedes
Director Tate Taylor once again teams up with his The Help star, Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer, to deliver us a feast of horror tropes in a film that feels familiar and yet bursting with vicious energy.
Teenager Maggie (Silvers) has just moved to Ohio with her mum Erica (Lewis) and now faces the scary prospect of starting at a new school. Maggie is awkward and yet Taylor doesn’t dwell on this, instead moving her right in to a group of friends in what is a very welcome decision. Her worries about fitting in are extinguished early, which enables us to really get to know them all swiftly and efficiently.
The group of, oddly likeable, teenagers include the quite brilliant McKaley Miller as Haley and Maggie’s boyfriend-in-waiting, Andy, played by Corey Fogelmanis. They are really fun to watch and despite their confident facades and need to show off to one another, they are very sweet and believable which is smart, you care about the little buggers damn it!
When the underage crew try to get booze from the local liquor store by convincing passing adults to go in on their behalf lest they get ID’d, they meet Sue Ann (Spencer) a sweet veterinary assistant who in a sudden bout of nostalgia for her own youth decides to help them out.
After a couple more successful booze drops, Sue Ann invites them to use her basement instead of the usual, and more unsavory, hangout spot, ‘the rock-pile’, so they can party away from prying eyes and the local law enforcement, and as it becomes their party palace, with the newly anointed ‘Ma’ as their host, things escalate quickly as Ma’s motives become clearer and much, much darker.
Spencer herself is a revelation as Ma and perfectly portrays a deeply troubled character with wondrous aplomb. Diana Silvers as Maggie, although playing a character that we’ve seen literally done to death, manages to fill the role with a swagger of an actor twice her age. McKaley Miller stands out as Haley who could easily fall into cliché but manages to rise above it with an honest and nuanced performance. What is also surprising is that often the characters actually do make decent decisions here and there which invites us to sympathise with them rather than write them off as mere caricatures and Ma fodder.
Not much is asked of the bigger names in the film, Luke Evans and Juliette Lewis, but they put in solid performances nonetheless as worried parents of Andy and Maggie respectively.
There is a mental-health undertone to this film but never delves deep enough to be jarring, this is old fashioned slasher fare and thank Satan for it because Ma is fun, scary, shocking, and often ridiculous, in the best possible way. Social media too is merely used as a tool in this film rather than as a glaring statement about our modern times and is refreshing for it.
Some of Ma’s triggers are questionable and more often than not feel like contrived ways of moving the story along more quickly but it works well enough and it all leads to a film that never outstays its welcome.
Ma works well as a large-crowd pleaser, as the quite frankly justified, gasps of disbelief and nervous laughter serve to heighten the enjoyment of a film that sets out to shock. Yes it is manipulative in the way that you could argue most horrors are but Ma’s actions will leave you largely speechless and more than a little shaken.
There are echoes here of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and even the 1986 slasher Slaughter High, with a tale of retribution with nasty results, but you never feel like Ma is going through the motions, more that it is guiding you to a cliff edge that you just can’t help but peer over.
Taylor is also best known for his 2016 film adaptation of The Girl on the Train but with Ma he is proving that he is able to adapt to multiple genres and directs here with the confidence of a seasoned horror director.
Blumhouse Productions continues to churn out the hits it seems and although Ma may end up being quite divisive there is no doubt that it will be filling the seats this summer, or at least the edge of them.
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