Sunday 11 April 2021

Movie Review: Ma (2019)

A suspense and horror thriller, Ma attempts an old/new twist on the teenagers-in-peril cliche. But the film meanders for too long in psychological damage territory before cramming incongruous violence into the final act.

After a divorce, Erica Thompson (Juliette Lewis) and her teenage daughter Maggie (Diana Silvers) move back to Erica's small Ohio hometown. She secures a job as a server at the local casino, while Maggie joins an easy-going group of high school buddies including the lively Haley (McKaley Miller) and dishy Andy (Corey Fogelmanis).

Looking for an adult to buy them alcohol, Maggie and her new friends meet Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer), a lonely veterinarian's assistant. Sue Ann recognizes the kids as the children of her classmates from her own dorky high school days, when she had a crush on Andy's father Ben (Luke Evans) but was mercilessly bullied. She embraces the nickname Ma and opens up her basement for the kids to party, while hiding a secret and plotting a dangerous revenge.

All the gory and icky horror moments explode onto the screen in the final 20 minutes, starting with Ma unceremoniously taking care of Ben's latest girlfriend before turning her attention to the fun-loving teenagers she has lured into her basement. Up until the maniacal climax, Ma lingers in rather undistinctive Hansel And Gretel territory by way of the Pied Piper, here the sinister adult enticing youngsters into the woods with the promise of alcohol-fuelled parties.

Director and co-writer Tate Taylor introduces Sue Ann's tragic high school story in snippets, the cruel bullying of an introverted Black young woman causing permanent damage and a pathetic yearning to belong undermined by a thirst for barbarous revenge. Another victim adds further intrigue, Sue Ann's impaired psyche translating to vile over-protection. All the pop-psychology is passable as far as horror movie root causes go, and Octavia Spencer works hard to sell the premise.

The teenaged victims-to-be are stock and interchangeable characters, the script's uninspired character definition wasting dedicated work by Diana Silvers and McKaley Miller to try and carve out identities. Juliette Lewis ramps up to a few mama bear moments, but the ending is rushed into an unsatisfying blur. Ma wants to party then kill, but never overcomes the awkwardness of an adult dancing to the wrong music.

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