Premise establishment occupies almost the entire film
This is how watching MA makes you feel.
In an almost futile entry by Blumhouse, Tate Taylor’s psychological horror-thriller MA chooses to walk timidly in a genre that is most typically utilised as a well-woven drama or as winning, captivating, trash. The movie is carried by Octavia Spencer as Ma/Su-ann, in a captivating premise bleached dull by boring testament to why tropes, as tropey as they may be, are almost essential genre characteristics.
MA‘s entire story is summarised in its trailer. After helping a group of underaged teenagers with an alcohol purchase, Su-ann strives desperately to establish herself as the fun, ‘cool mom’, stemming from a childhood of exclusion and sexual shaming in school. Her intemperate desires extend particularly to a primary group of children, Maggie’s (Diana Silvers) clique which grows growingly fond of “Ma” with every party that she throws in her basement for them, going to the extent of purchasing a beer pong table and crates of alcohol–despite her seemingly mediocre job as a nurse in a vet’s clinic, where she is always an annoyingly lucid staffer. The parties allow her the chance of feeling popular and relevant, something that she never got in school – revealed to us in numerous flashbacks.
The teens catch a glimpse of Ma’s sinister side when they break one of her house rules in a moment of urgency, as Su-ann shoves McKaley Miller’s character Haley into a wall for trespassing into the ground floor of her home for the toilet. Concurrently, Ma draws connections between the children and the bullies of her childhood, spurring her already demented perceptions.
The premise grasps at straws throughout the movie, never quite materialising until it’s beyond saving. Moments in Scotty Landes’ script prove this to be a conscious choice, with the occasional strong line that doesn’t punch because of the subtlety and social commentary that the film works toward. Not to mention, numerous contrived elements.
What ultimately kills the movie is the misguided approach that was taken toward Octavia Spencer’s character, with a good bulk of exposition being spent creating relatable moments for Ma, rather than simply providing an origin story or sense of understanding as to why she acts out in the way that she does. While this is a commendable attempt, the storytelling format melds poorly with the genre, diluting Ma’s attempts at psychological play. Alas, this is why MA ends up being just about how the characters get to where they are in promotional posters for the movie.
Practically the whole cast proves to be talented and promising, keeping the film from falling apart and outwardly delivering the intentions of the movie well. Anything less may have made the film crumble. The smart-but-really-just-dumb teenagers are portrayed marvellously, leaving a gnawing feeling at the tropey, fun, social commentary of a movie that MA could have been.
For what it’s worth, the final moments of MA (when we get to the poster promo shot, yay!) will incite some screaming and seat-clinging. The gory moments that give this movie its R-rating in the US are enthralling and leave much to be embraced. The movie’s ending is unrealistic but totally normal for the genre, though it fails to deliver an impact because the rest of the movie is incongruent.
There are moments in MA where you’ll feel like you could be driven to Ma’s extents. Immense effort has been put into getting there, ultimately never generating the inane appeal of the twisted, animalistic barbarism in the antagonists that we’re really longing to see.
Tate Tylor’s MA is now in cinemas. Watch the trailer here.