Friday, 31 May 2019

Review: Ma

Cert: 15 / 99 mins / Dir. Tate Taylor / Trailer

So apparently John Hughes movies are something that middle-aged people do now while the kids are out having fun. I knew that. Of course I knew that, I'm down with the kids. More importantly, I know that holding on to obsessions from your school-days at the expense of broader cultural perspectives leads only to bad places. Tate Taylor told me that. And how.


Yes his new movie, Ma, wears its love for dark nostalgia and high-school stalker movies on its sleeve as Octavia Spencer's Sue Ann (aka the eponymous antagonist) is the simmering pot which finally boils over in smalltown Ohio. It begins like a fairly run-of-the-mill teen horror as Erica (Juliette Lewis) moves back to her old hometown with teenage daughter Maggie (Diana Silvers) in tow after a separation. There's a distinctly indie edge to the opening and some very economical backstory exposition. Maggie quickly makes friends with her schoolmates, and an under-age booze run puts them in touch with Sue Ann, who offers the gang full use of her basement as a party-den, seemingly out of the goodness of her heart.

We move into more traditional psychological thriller fare with Ma's gradual flashbacks accompanying the unwinding of painful threads, but these still serve the purpose of the film well. Spencer is on absolute panto-form here, and it suits her. And although the movie centers around Maggie and her teenage cohorts, it's great to see a solidly capable supporting cast of 'the adults', and even better that they have constructive parts to play within the story*1.


99 minutes is a solid runtime for a movie of this nature. The whole thing moves along at such a pace that it's difficult for Taylor to really build up the foreboding atmosphere you'd expect, meaning Spencer has to work harder to sell Ma's full unhingedness by the final act. But sell it she does, with some classic batshit-crazy escalation.

The climactic sequence has quite a bitter edge to it, after writer Scotty Landes has been careful to build up enough sympathy for Sue Ann that her nastiness is justified, but not so much that it's excused.

There's not as much biting satire or behavioural-sermonising as you'd perhaps expect, but Ma is still a fun social-horror flick which demonstrates that the real monsters don't live in dusty basements.

Although they're happy to lend theirs out for parties if you promise not to misbehave…

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
There are notes of Carrie, Unfriended 2 and Get Out here, as well as a cracking nod-and-a-wink in the direction of Misery.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
This film works well with a crowd, if that's your bag (a gentleman in the row behind me became Vocally Concerned at one point which I won't delve into here).

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Probably not, but still something to be proud of on the CV.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's unlikely.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voice of Aly San San in the rebooted Star Tours is in this.
Yes it counts.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Although there's an awful lot of "OMG hey! I haven't seen you since, like high-school!!" going on here, considering the town's entire population seems to only be in double figures… [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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