Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Movie Review: "Ma" (2019)

Director: Tate Taylor
Year: 2019
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

When a group of teens asks a middle-aged woman to buy them some booze for a night of fun, she goes one step further and offers up her basement as a place to party safely. What they don't know is the woman they affectionately call 'Ma' may have ulterior motives stemming from past trauma.

Octavia Spencer talks to Diana Silvers and McKaley Miller outside their high school in the 2019 movie Ma
"Nobody goes upstairs. That's my world, and right now, it's a mess." (Image Source)
If you have one credo, one rule by which to live your life, make it "be nice to people." You never know who will grow up to be a kid-torturing psychopath. "Ma" is directed by Tate Taylor, who is known for directing such films as "The Girl on the Train," "Get On Up," and the Oscar-nominated "The Help." After her parent's divorce, a high schooler named Maggie (Diana Silvers) has moved from San Diego to her mom's small midwestern hometown. Despite being new in town, she quickly meets a group of welcoming kids who ask her to join them for a night out. That evening, the group stops by a liquor store where they try to convince an adult to buy them some booze because apparently hanging out and drinking is the only fun thing they can do in their one-horse city. They finally persuade a  veterinary assistant named Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) to oblige them. Sue Ann keeps helping the kids out and even goes one step further by offering her basement as a safe place for them to party and get wasted. The teens have fun and start to affectionately refer to her as 'Ma,' but what they don't know is that Ma has some deep-seated mental issues stemming from a horrific past trauma and ulterior motives for inviting them into her home. 
Movie still for the horror movie "Ma," starring Octavia Spencer, Corey Fogelmanis, Diana Silvers, McKaley Miller, Dante Brown, and Gianni Paolo
"You treated me like a dog because that's what you are." (Image Source)
Some horror and thriller movies rely on endless amounts of blood and tons of jump-scares to spark a reaction from the audience. "Ma" does not do that. This is a film about putting people in uncomfortable, awkward situations to get a rise out of them. Because the antagonist is unstable, it creates the unsettling feeling that they could snap anywhere and at any given moment. This creates a layer of tension that hovers over the whole film, and it's the main reason why we enjoyed it as much as we did. Well, that an Octavia Spencer's devilishly good performance, but more on that later. These anxious moments are offset by dark comedy that causes nervous laughter, which is what we imagine the group of teens experience throughout their interactions with Ma. Tate Taylor and writer Scotty Landes try to do something some viewers may not like: they give Ma a background that makes her evil actions sympathetic. As they explore her past experiences, it gives her more depth as a person, for better and for worse. Some horror fans may prefer a story that's a little more black and white and want a villain that's just plain wicked, so they should apply elsewhere is that's the case. Some viewers may take umbrage with the event that happens in Ma's past, the moment in time that sparks her problems. We could see the argument that the script uses a gravely important issue as little more than a plot device, though it wasn't a problem for us personally. All of these elements could have spelled disaster for "Ma" had it not been for Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer, who gives this role her absolute all (as she always does). It sure looks like she's having a hell of a good time. The other performances are decent but are nowhere near as noteworthy as Spencer's. Juliette Lewis does get one scene where she gets to scream her lungs out at her daughter (played by Silvers), and that moment is sort of fun, too.
Diana Silvers watches as Octavia Spencer menacingly hugs her mom, played by Juliette Lewis, in the 2019 horror film Ma
"Everybody block Ma for good. I'm serious, that bitch is crazy." (Image Source)
"Ma" is nowhere near perfect. Hell, we fully admit that there are elements of the story that are predictable. We realize that the runtime goes on about 15 minutes too long. And sure, you could nitpick the plot if you're the type of film watcher who can't suspend their disbelief long enough to enjoy something for 99 minutes. Overall, we felt like this movie provided us with an unnerving enough experience moviegoing experience, which in the case of horror flicks is always a good thing. We'll take Blumhouse's "Ma" over Blumhouse's "Truth or Dare" any day of the week.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: ~6.0/10
RT Rating: ~57%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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