As we near the end of 2019 — to which I offer a hale and hearty, “good riddance,” — I found myself looking back on my media experiences of the past year and realized I didn’t see many new films (or at least released-to-theaters flicks). To try and remedy that, I requested a movies from the library and had what turned out to be a strange and wildly imbalanced double feature of Ma and The Banana Splits Movie! Imma get into the former right now, but come on back soon for my take on the latter, as well as a review of Chromeskull: Laid To Rest 2!
All I knew about Tate Taylor’s Ma going in is that it starred the always-wonderful Octavia Spencer. From the few trailers I watched, I gathered that she let high school kids hang out in her house for nefarious purposes. For a bit more background, Erica (Juliette Lewis) and her teen daughter Maggie (Diana Silvers) move back to Erica’s hometown to work in the casino. In what feels like a throwback the movies of the 80s, she’s gone a lot which gives Maggie all kinds of time to hang out with her new friends. Said group runs into Sue Ann (Spencer) near a liquor store and she agrees to buy booze for them, but then makes some moves that let us know she’s not just being cool!
Eventually, she brings them to her house so they can hang out in her basement, which has a bulkhead entryway. Sue Ann, soon dubbed Ma, says she’d rather they drink there instead of out in the world where they could hurt people. She has one rule, though, don’t go upstairs. It doesn’t take long for the kids, and even some of their parents — like Luke Evans! — to start getting suspicious about this whole situation, which turns out to be a good call as Sue Ann has a pretty good reason to dislike these kids (or at least pretty good for a horror movie).
You guys, I LOVED this movie. I was a little concerned because I didn’t want to watch a corny movie about a bunch of kids more concerned with getting wasted than noticing the very real danger in front of their faces and that’s not what happens at all! The film felt very grounded and real. Silvers gives a great performance as Maggie that drew me right in and her friends were actually all pretty darn likeable and charming. Spencer gives one of the better villain preformanes I’ve seen in a while, a chilling one if you ask me, and everyone brings it hard.
Part of the grounded feel of the film comes from the sets. The houses all feel familiar with Ma’s basement reminding me of one of my all-time favorite TV sets, the basement from That 70s Show. There’s a lived-in feel to those places, but also the rock pile the kids hang out at sometimes. This is obviously a subjective thing — and I swear it’s not just because it was set in Ohio — but as with my reading of Joe Hill’s Horns, my ability to so easily place myself in those locales which enhances the horror for me.
I’ve seen just a few of the other much-talked about horror films of the year — Mandy and Us are the only ones coming to mind — but Ma is the only one of those that I find myself thinking about on a regular basis afterwards. I keep feeling echos of that film, whether they be feelings I had while watching it or specific scenes which makes it one of my favorite viewing experiences of the year!