"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Ma

MA is a pretty simple little Blumhouse thriller that doesn’t go much deeper than what you see in the trailer, but I had fun with it. Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (HALLOWEEN II) plays the titelistical matriarch, a.k.a. Sue Ann, a single veterinarian’s assistant in a small town in Ohio who is randomly approached one day by some high school kids who want her to buy them alcohol. Not only does she hook them up that one time, she becomes their regular buyer. And then she decides to let them use her basement as their party space. She’s like a cool, irresponsible aunt. She jokes around inappropriately sometimes, but tells them she’d rather they be here than out driving drunk or something. (Plan A was to party in a van.)

There are a couple obvious ways to play this. One would be to draw out the reveal of whether or not Ma is a psycho. I like that they immediately show her looking up the kids’ Facebook pages like a stalker. There are two other major escalations in craziness that happened so abruptly I got a big laugh and wished I’d seen this with an audience. The suspense is in how far she’s gonna take this. And there’s tension about things like “why is she so insistent that they not see the upstairs” and “will Maggie (Diana Silvers, BOOKSMART) be able to make her friends and her boyfriend Andy (Corey Fogelmanis, Girl Meets World) see that this lady is trouble?”

I kinda hoped this would be a mean-spirited movie where you root for the little brats to get tormented, but Maggie is too likable for that. She’s the new kid in town and the popular kids are surprisingly welcoming to her – they’re not that bad. They just make poor decisions.

But I found Ma to be a sympathetic villain. She’s obviously dealing with some issues. And her schoolmates were not as nice to her. This is one of those stories where every significant person from her teenage life still lives in the area and they all bump into each other and all these kids are the kids of the people she grew up with. You could say it’s because it’s a small town, but we see them seeing each other for the first time in years. So it seems to just be coincidence.

In flashbacks we learn about a cruel thing that was done to young Sue Ann by Ben Hawkins (Luke Evans, NO ONE LIVES), notorious asshole and father of Andy. Ben is a funny character because he’s introduced getting a blowjob from his girlfriend Mercedes (Missi Pyle, JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS) in a car and when it’s interrupted by a phone call he blandly tells her “We’re good.” We find out more about Ben and Mercedes when they’re drunk at a casino where Maggie’s mom (Juliette Lewis, MEET THE HOLLOWHEADS) waitresses. She grew up here and knows them too. Juliette Lewis is playing moms now!

After seeing it I was curious what black writers had said about the racial politics of MA. Ashlee of Graveyard Shift Sisters, who I know from the HORROR NOIRE: A HISTORY OF BLACK HORROR documentary, seems surprisingly won over by the character and sees it as a commentary on “mammy” stereotypes. It could’ve gone either way, because it’s directed by Tate Taylor, whose work on GET ON UP really impressed me, but he’s also the guy who did THE HELP, poster child for well-meaning white people anti-racism movies that still manage to be demeaning to their excellent black actresses.

For some reason I assumed that Tate reteaming with Spencer for this had to mean it was some kind of apology or commentary or explanation of THE HELP. But it’s more like color-blind casting – she’s just playing a nerd that got picked on. It’s never implied that being one of the only black people in a small town has any effect on anything that goes on. Which is a choice, and it’s fair, because a brilliant actress like Spencer shouldn’t be forced to deal with racism in every movie. But I do think a version of MA that had something to say would’ve hit the spot.

Also, I think this trend of directors who have done big, respectable-ish movies coming to do low budget horror with Blumhouse is pretty cool (see also Barry Levinson, M. Night Shyamalan, arguably David Gordon Green).

The script by Scotty Landes (Workaholics) wasn’t written for a black actress, but also didn’t originally have a backstory to explain her vendetta. She was just a Maniac Alcohol Buyer, I guess.

I guess if there are depths to this movie I don’t have the right glasses to see them, but it delivers well on exactly the type of fun it promises. Kids – be responsible, be cautious, be safe. Do a thorough background check on the adult woman who thinks it’s a good idea to buy you alcohol and let you throw parties in her basement.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 30th, 2019 at 11:31 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

31 Responses to “Ma”

  1. I was excited to see this one, but I thought it kinda shoots itself in the foot trying to have it both ways. MA should be either a dangerous psychopath or a sympathetic victim getting righteous revenge, and having her be both weakens the impact. It definitely feels like a film which shifted in intent once Davis came on board, but I don’t think it shifted enough; so many details seem at odds with each other. They don’t entirely ignore the racial element (I mean, SPOILER, she gives the one other black character whiteface at the end!) but also don’t do anything meaningful with it. I guess they figured that if they had an actress of Davis’ caliber, they ought to make her character more complex than a crazed maniac, but the things they added don’t seem to really sync up very well with her other actions. SPOILERS, Why bother giving her a legitimate grievance if she’s such a sadist to her own daughter? We’re never going to like her after that, so now she’s just a hissable villain whose life was sad enough that we can’t really enjoy her rampage OR her comeuppance. It all kinda adds up to a missed opportunity.

    Still, if it makes Viola Davis into a Peter-Cushing-esque horror stable, it’ll be worth it.

  2. I had a few thoughts upon seeing the trailer for this.

    1. This is a real movie? It’s not a Key & Peele parody of THE GIRL NEXT DOOR or anything?

    2. Good god, I hope a black person directed this.

    3. This is gonna be really annoying, isn’t it? It’s gonna be one of those plots that only works if every character except for the lead bends over backwards to ignore all of the extremely obvious evidence until such a time as the screenwriter has amassed enough pages for a feature-length script. I HATE those plots. They make me want to crawl out of my skin. And while I might admit that we as a society tend to overlook the rot lurking beneath the placid surface of things nine times out of ten, I think that only works for white people. People might look the other way if the kooky white lady from down the block starts hosting the local teens, but there’s no way in hell a black woman is getting that benefit of the doubt. Black women get shot by cops in their own homes in this country for no reason. They get their babies ripped out of their hands and held at gunpoint for accidentally taking a stuffed animal from a dollar store. Yet this clearly crazy broad is gonna get away with supplying white teens with alcohol? Nope. Not a chance. I’m all for genre movies starring people of color that don’t need to be about race, but this looks like a case where colorblind casting seems likely to remove any kind of thematic reality from the story.

  3. You need some movie therapy. It’s not good to be this angry about movies all the time. What is a horror movie you really like? Let’s talk about that instead.

  4. How am I angry? I just don’t want to watch the movie for the reasons I gave. I saw ten horror movies I liked this week alone. I told you about one and you said it was a piece of shit. So maybe everybody is a little negative sometimes.

  5. This is not Viola Davis, Subtlety. My dad used to have this Self-consciously meta-racist running gag where he would pretend he thought every young African-American male actor was “Malcolm-Jamal Warner.”

    This movie took too long going full crazy and failed to exploit Spencer’s potential. Lost my heart at the 30 min mark and never won it back.

    Also, I think Majestyk is way less negative in general lately.

  6. Happy halloween!

    I think Bong Joon-ho has this one beat as far as motherly thrillers go. Still want to see this though, as I hear Spencer is a lot of fun once the script finally lets her loose.

    It’s not really a slasher film, and I’ve stumped for it here before, but I’ll go to bat for We Are Still Here. It’s a great little horror film with a lot going for it – one of those that doesn’t quite head where you’re expecting it to. Also: cool monster designs, great deaths, and Barbara Crampton!

  7. Mr. M, I don’t know if you’ve seen JACK BROOKS: MONSTER SLAYER but you somehow managed to explain that you aren’t angry EXACTLY like he would. In my mind, your words will henceforth be read in his voice. That’s mostly a compliment, I think, as I’m still waiting on a JACK BROOKS 2.

  8. I agree that the trailer gave away whether Ma was nuts or not. So, given that and that it was a post-Get Out Blumhouse release, I expected some other subversion but, nope. There was a lot of material they could have dug into but it’s a generic “escape from the madman’s house!” horror film just starring really good actors. I felt this way about the Lazarus Effect too. The notable actors were almost distracting in that one because you start wondering what they saw in the script that you don’t? Why would something that would normally be belched out unnoticed into the vacuum of streaming services get a wide theatrical release? I guess it pays to know people and be able to call in favors?

  9. welp, that’s mortifying. I am have smart now.

  10. Jerome, I’m thinking you’re going to have to keep waiting on Jack Brooks 2.

  11. Majestyk,

    What horror movies this week? I was just updating my Netflix/Amazon Prime lists with a few that I found on Bloody Disgusting and always looking for a few.

  12. JeffG: I’ve found a few recent good ones on Shudder, which you should check out if you have the option. This week I saw HAUNT, THE FURIES, and PSYCHOPATHS on there. In the past, I’ve enjoyed AMONG THE LIVING, LAKE BODOM, COLD HELL, MONSTER PARTY, YOU MIGHT BE THE KILLER, DIGGING UP THE MARROW, THE RANGER, SATAN’S SLAVES, and COLD SKIN. And those are just the contemporary ones. There are lots of vintage movies I’ve enjoyed (a Soviet oddity named VIY has particularly stuck in my memory), many of them hosted by Joe Bob Briggs, which to me is more than worth the price of subscription. My only complaint about Shudder is that you can only fit so many movies in your queue before they start bumping stuff out.

    Also, these aren’t all from the last week, but I watched them all fairly recently.

    Outside of Shudder, in terms of recent-ish horror, I watched COOTIES from Elijah Woods’ company and found it a very enjoyable horror-comedy. I watched ANIMAL, a very respectable guy-in-a-rubber-suit monster movie. I enjoyed BLOOD NIGHT, a fairly standard modern slasher that gives Danielle Harris something to do for a change. I liked BENEATH, a Larry Fessenden film that combines a bleak character study of civilized people under pressure with a loveably goofy all-practical giant killer fish. I kinda loved 3 FROM HELL. I had good time with another horror comedy, SLAUGHTERHOUSE RULEZ, from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s production company. I thought THE DARK was actually pretty original despite its alarmingly generic title. And this surprised the hell out of me, but I pretty much adored that bizarre BANANA SPLITS horror thing.

    So I do enjoy a lot of recent horror, but it seems like the ones I like don’t get talked about, so I get how I can come off very negative. I assure you, I give a horror movie a lot of leeway as long as it seems to genuinely want to entertain me and not just jerk me around. With that in mind, I’m sure your mileage may vary on a lot of these but I hope you manage to get something out of this list all the same.

  13. Not a fan of COOTIES. It’s kinda inoffensive, compared to other “We were under the impression that this was gonna be an instant cult classic” movies, but too many of the jokes were sitcomish “some guy says things that make him sound gay” or “Smoking weed makes you see funny stuff, y’all” kind.

  14. This one was a big ol’ disappointment for me, not so much because it was bad, but because it was bland. The trailer made it look bonkers and fun, but there was absolutely nothing to it that wasn’t in the trailer. I had high hopes for Blumhouse + Octavia Spenser. This felt like it was going for that kind of restrained, middle-brow it’s-a-thriller-not-a-horror-movie type of thing that was so prevalent in the 90s and early 2000s.

  15. It’s all good, Subtlety — an honest human mistake. There’s a difference between crude cognitive-perceptual pattern matching and animus.

    Majestyk, I was going to tell you that RANGER is (a) on Shudder and (b) looks cool — but you beat me to the punch!

  16. Saw this in a multiplex filled with teenagers. One of them kept yelling at the screen, “Just block her!”

  17. Subtlety, every time my friend mixes up any African-American actors I look at her completely seriously and say, “They’re not all the same person, you know.” She’s not very good at remembering actors names, regardless of their race, so it happens quite often.

  18. Thanks Majestyk, I have been on the fence with subscribing to Shudder for a while, I think I will pull the trigger.

    I have four horror movies on my “To Do” list this weekend, Harpoon, Little Monsters, Luz, and Girl on the Third Floor.

    Only one that you mentioned that I have seen are Haunt. I THINK. I say that because I cant tell you how many times I start watching a horror movie and about 20 minutes in realize I have already watched it and forgot.

  19. HAUNT is a Shudder Exclusive that just came out, so it’s doubtful you’ve seen it. Your uncertainty is understandable, though, considering the utter genericness of that title, which is a problem that gets more and more common every year in my opinion. That never happened in the days of SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA.

  20. I rented Haunt on Amazon Prime.

    I was enjoying it for about 30 minutes, but started to lose interest once it got moving.

  21. Well, shit. That’s what I get for trusting a streaming service.

  22. Man, I really want to subscribe to Shudder but I just can’t justify another streaming service right now especially when I’m the only one in the house who would ever use it.

  23. Get it for a month and hit it hard. That’s a lot of entertainment for five bucks.

  24. I think all of those “Shudder Exclusives” are available for rental. I guess by “exclusive” they mean “free here, pay elsewhere”.

  25. Sometimes I think you’re extra grumpy but I am often wrong.

    I liked Haunt a lot for reasons I can’t explain without major spoilers. It’s not perfect and I may have overrated it a little bit but they do things I don’t think we see these days because everybody is so fucking depressed in real life.

    My year is Shudder is almost up. I’ll probably sign up again in December for Joe Bob and then again when his weekly show starts again next year.

  26. I decided to do the Shudder Halloween deal, so I appreciate this discussion of their exclusives. I checked out FURIES, which I didn’t get that much out of (something about the off-brand Jason/Leatherface-ness of the killers was grating to me), but I definitely knew and appreciated the crazy kill Majestyk referred to. I tried Creepshow episode 1 but was but was bored out of my mind. But I’ll probly take you up on HAUNT. And I should watch COLD HELL again (I borrowed a friend’s password to watch it a while back).

  27. I have found only one episode of Creepshow to be terrible. I’ve enjoyed all the other ones a bunch. Especially the doll house one. I also find it really weird that bored is something that Vern ever is.

  28. I know!! When I heard that there was something I enjoyed in horror that bored Vern, I about did a spit take. Vern has such a capacity to find and savor the good in horror (and action) that I was like, whaaaaa???? #notmyvern lol.

    I also love how the creeper dude from CREEPSHOW is like the anti-Cryptkeeper. Talk about show, don’t tell — this guy’s got it figured out. I imagine the Cryptkeeper inviting this CREEPSHOW Creeper out for beers along with Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock, and the gang. The CREEPSHOW Creeper shows up only reluctantly after some cajoling, and after about five minutes of these guys yammering, the Creeper can’t take anymore of it and just absconds. Bunch of yappy mofos, I’m out of here.

  29. Was looking on Shudder to see what I have seen and would like to see. Downrange was really good. Anyone see Mayhem?

  30. I liked MAYHEM more than the similar THE BELKO EXPERIMENT. It leans into the antisocial appeal of the premise rather than the tension, which I liked. Plus there’s the Samara Weaving Factor, which has been proven to improve any movie by at least 25%.

  31. I liked the martial arts movie structure of Meyham.

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