'MA' (2019) Me = Happy Movie Review
Blumhouse Productions has truly come a long way in the last decade, all while still holding true to their independent filmmaking roots. Especially when it comes to the horror genre. Hitting strong with hits such as the Paranormal Activity franchise, as well as the Insidious chapters, Blumhouse had made quite the splash. Since those early years, the studio has grown in a way that releases even more innovative titles that push the envelope for horror and other genres too; The Gift was one of the most intelligently crafted psychological thrillers I had seen in decades, Whiplash is possibly the most nail-biting film about playing in a musical college band ever produced, Upgrade contains some of the most exhilarating action sequences of the decade, Oculus and Get Out paved the way to success for some of the most inspired horror directors working today, The Visit reinvigorated M. Night Shyamalan’s career from the depths that it had sunk to, BlacKkKlansman was a provocative and totally stylish throwback to 1970s crime thrillers, and Truth or Dare was… terrible. Alright, so not everything Blumhouse puts out is pure gold. No doubt about that.
Regardless of the quality, I have to admit that I personally retain the upmost respect for this production company and how they handle business. Seriously, these producers are quite the geniuses in terms of their entire work ethic for the majority of their films; basically granting their filmmakers almost full freedom to create whatever film that they want as long as it doesn’t go over the budget of approximately five million dollars. With certain exceptions occasionally going higher or lower with the budgetary constraints. Thus far though, Blumhouse’s most expensive production was still no higher than $20 million. A budget that I’m certain was only raised because it was for the long awaited sequel known as Glass, which received $247 million in returns at the box office. So I would say that it paid off. From time to time the studio notes do come into play and may or may not hinder a project, overall they’ve made some fairly solid cinematic efforts.
The director of The Help and Get On Up now brings us the psychological thriller Ma! I thought that was a funny little fact about this picture; a director going from period piece comedies and dramas to a horror film. Right on! Honestly, I was excited about this movie from the second I heard Octavia Spencer was starring in a horror film where she terrorizes teenagers. Hell yes! Then I saw the trailer. HELL YES AGAIN! Sold, I was immediately sold on this movie. Take my money now. Where the hell is my ticket already?! Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the film apparently wasn’t screened in my town. Sadness is what I felt. Thankfully, time passed and I was finally able to see the movie in my own home. Now all that wanders through my zapped mind is, “Why didn’t I travel to another town to see this on the big screen?” The regrets of the fact that I did not seek this movie out to view in a cinema, will haunt me forever. As well as Octavia Spencer as ‘Ma’… HOLY MOLEY! I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s move onto the plot synopsis before I gush my heart out about this awesome flick.
Maggie (Diana Silvers) and her mother (Juliette Lewis) move to her rural hometown in Ohio, a town where the activities for the youth are practically kept at a minimum. Leaving frolicking teenagers to roam the town and pretty much try scoring alcohol any way they can. Typical teenaged shenanigans. Maggie and her new group of friends make their acquaintance with a woman walking by a liquor store, Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer). From there, Sue Ann befriends the teens and eventually offers safe refuge in the basement of her house to party the night away any time they so choose. All seems perfect under the house of ‘Ma’, that is until strange occurrences begin transpiring that make the kids question where Ma’s true motives reside.
I’m Not Spoiling Jack!
More often than not, I do my best to dance around spoilers and steer as far clear as I can from revealing too much about any given narrative. Unless it’s Norm of the North 3 or Unplanned, then I’ll spoil every single second out of that garbage. For Ma though, this is going to be as vague of a review as I can possibly write because I want people to see this film for themselves. I’ll talk a little about character, the acting, some of the technicals, and the astonishing balance of tone. Other than that, I’m probably going to touch on the story with the minimum amount of detail. Apologies in advanced, but this film is too good and should be experienced firsthand. Not by reading my lackluster review. Go see Ma.
Ma – Octavia
Octavia Spencer is an actress that I’ve enjoyed for several years now. Any time she pops up on screen, I’m instantly filled with joy, she just has such a lovable screen presence in almost every role she performs. Although I’ve honestly wished for the actress to get far more of the limelight, finally be front and center stage in a film rather than the usual second billing that tends to bestow her. As terrific as she is in those supporting roles, I believe she deserves a bit better. Well, those wishes came true under the title of Ma. Holy crap, be careful what you wish for I guess. And no, I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. I mean that in a, “Oh my gosh, Spencer was incredible at scaring the absolute sh*t out of me” kind of way.
Spencer gets to stretch out her acting chops in so many delicious ways and I could definitely tell that she was having a ball with it here. The layers that Octavia injects into this character with simply the quick change of emotions expressed on her face was enough to send chills down my spine every time. One minute Ma can be completely jovial and endearing with these kids, then in a flash her eyes become cold and that smile of hers is a distant memory. Her performance is concise and swift, creepy and cool, fun and disturbing, lovable and heartbreaking, all of the damn pronouns. Octavia Spencer is perfect. Let me just say that one more time to make sure all the readers understand me; Octavia Spencer is absolutely freaking perfect! I loved her in this film and she brought this tragically scary chameleon to life effortlessly.
The KidsClick thumbnail to view full-size
This is an element where everything could have gone horribly wrong. From the very beginning, I knew that I was going to enjoy Spencer’s performance because she is a phenomenal talent. The cast of these rambunctious teenagers though, I had no idea on where the bar of their acting skills were set. With the wrong actor or the slightest mistake made in one of these teen characters’ performances and these kids could have been downright unbearable to watch a whole movie revolve around. Even if the writing made a single misstep, I could certainly see myself loathing the experience. Luckily, that was not the case at all. Actually, these young actors came off as believable and natural while handling humorous dialog amongst one another fantastically.
Like mentioned before, a wrong ingredient could have resulted in utter failure with these teenage characters. All the ingredients turned out to be a lot of fun to ride along with as these kids have a significant amount of screen time dedicated to them; with and without the presence of Ma. At no point was I begging for them to shut up or questioning their intelligence when they made relatively questionable decisions because I was able to become fond of these characters and understand exactly what their mindset is. When the kids decide to chill inside this woman’s basement, I never thought to myself, “Don’t do that, dumbass”. Instead, I got it. This is a town with quite literally nothing to do as they live in practically the middle of nowhere, when they go out drinking and partying they don’t really have any place to go where they can’t get caught, this woman seems very genuine and also cool to hang out with; adding all this up made sense to me. When things start going down that make these kids have second thoughts about Ma, it still made sense why they wouldn’t immediately cut ties with her. There was always enough of a reason for me to buy why these kids were doing the things they were doing. Yes, at the end of the day they were idiots for not following the “stranger danger” rules. Regardless, that never bothered me because I was allowed to understand their youthful naivety. Plus they were hilarious to me so I was cool with continuing on with their dark journey.
Eli Roth yearns so desperately that his writing could handle tone as magnificently as Ma. This film goes from 0 to 100 like almost no other and it never comes across as jarring either. In the middle of a casual, yet funny, conversation between the cast can surprisingly turn on its head with sheer intensity out of nowhere and then ease back into being totally laugh-out-loud funny again. Most films struggle to juggle that sort of tonal shift. Ma is a master of crafting suspenseful and comedic tones. Much of which is thanks to Spencer’s spot on performance, but also merit is definitely due to the cinematographers and editors of this picture in making sure that everything flowed fluidly yet fast as lightning too. No scene or character action feels out of place or cartoonish, everything adds to the glorious buildup with an unsettling payoff. All while being extremely funny at that.
Most of the horror from this feature mainly comes from a character base rather than resorting to loud noises or abrupt musical stingers all the time. Although as with the majority of the horror genre, Ma does have a few jump scares. Unlike 85% of other horror titles, these jump scares are actually effective. Including the false jump scare or two that occurred in the movie. I’m not going to lie, there was one tension building scene in particular that had me so engrossed in suspense that when a very cheap jump scare erupted… I jumped… I yelled out loud, “OH MY F*CK”. The scare itself was very cheap and easy and honestly could have been cut out of the movie without any problems, but for whatever reason it worked for me. When I realized what was going on and what happened, I wasn’t mad. Not even remotely. In fact, I was still wrapped up in what was going on and I chuckled to myself about the whole fiasco. That is a testament to how good this film is, to incorporate a very cheap jump scare and still make me love the jump scare itself. Good job, movie. Good job.
I’m not going to spoil anything, but this movie does touch upon some intelligent themes about bullying and the mental scars that can be left behind from the cruelty of children. Scars that not only affect the direct victim at the time, but even the generations after the fact. Moral of the story, don’t be a d*ck. Treat others generously. And maybe stay out of dark rooms. Please, just be a decent human being and make sure if you have kids that they are taught to be good people as well. Make the world a better place that won’t cause Octavia Spencer to go bat sh*t crazy. None of us need that.
Why haven’t you seen Ma yet? What are you waiting for? My opinion? Screw my opinion! Get out there and watch this damn movie. Now! I am not joking. This is a fun, funny, smart, creepy, awesome, terrifying, distressing, emotional rollercoaster ride with a kickin’ soundtrack. Seriously, the soundtrack is pretty funk and disco heavy. Which instantly wins over my heart. Ma had me on the edge of my seat while enjoying the company of all these characters. Never growing bored or uninterested, always curious where the story was going as I was mesmerized by Octavia Spencer from start to finish. 2019 has truthfully had its slim pickings for cinematic greatness; Ma, on the other hand, easily makes it into my top five favorite films thus far this year. If this sounds like your cup of tea, or if it doesn’t, see Ma.
That's All Folks!
Ma… Why are you still reading this?! Go see Ma!!
What did you think of the movie or my review? Like or dislike? Agree or disagree? Wonder if Octavia Spencer is standing in your closet, waiting to stab you… she might be. Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you so happened to have enjoyed my review then please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a… uhh… I don’t have a one-liner for this. Go see Ma.
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© 2019 John Plocar