Being a teenager can be tough, well, it certainly used to. Even though the specifics may have changed/evolved, the scars of peer pressure, humiliation and other challenges can leave hefty scars both psychologically and physically. In 2019, a bastion of apparent hospitality took a dark turn exposing the many ways in which those scars could manifest. In a monosyllabic film that is called Ma.
Having recently moved back to her Mom’s old town in Ohio, teenager Maggie Thompson reluctantly attempts to acclimatise to her new life. Though this is soon remedied after befriending some of her classmates, and the subsequent meeting of a lonesome but kind veterinarian technician, Sue Ann. She helps the teens by buying them alcohol and is generally accepting of their behaviour. Even offers to let out her basement to the student’s wild parties. However, the new “Ma” becomes kind of obsessive, leading to doubt her motives. Does Sue Ann have the best of intentions? Or does the new “Ma” have a sinister secret?
Little surprise to anybody who has seen her previous work, but Octavia Spencer manages to provide a performance worthy of the film’s eponymous character. Even in a role that is a dramatic departure from the usual characters that she has played, Ma allows Spencer to show off her talent. The teens also do a pretty good job too, with Booksmart’s own Diana Silvers serving as the main lead, while a collection of talent, such as McKaley Miller and Corey Fogelmanis do a job capturing the personalities you’d expect from a modern-day high school. Cameos from the likes of Alison Janney and Luke Evans do help populate the Ohioan community.
As a creation of Blumhouse, renowned names in bringing ingenuity to the horror genre, responsible for such hits as Fantasy Island, the film takes on a lot, and it’s hard to blame them with an interesting character like Ma to work with, we learn of the backstory of Ma and find out why she’s the way she is and some other secrets, the townsfolk would just which they would stay buried. All this psychological palaver does reach a crescendo and the finale has a very effectively creepy segment involving synths, offering lovingly homage to other cult classics of the genre. To its credit, the whole film manages to provide a rollercoaster ride of a horror film, that you never know where it will head next.
With its slow release of tension, Ma allows you to bask in the terrific performances of Spencer and the unique world that Blumhouse has created. A twisted tale that despite offering the same thrills and chills, feels rejuvenated in this new setting while basking in the modern terror of its situation. Although the memetic potential may have robbed some of Ma’s impact, if you sit down, give it a chance, and embrace the warped world of Ma, you may be surprised to find that Ma is not just another teen movie.
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