At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Ma “2019”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Ma “2019”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Psychological Horror/Stars: Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, McKaley Miller, Corey Fogelmanis, Juliette Lewis, Luke Evans, Gianni Paolo, Dante Brown, Missi Pyle, Tanyell Waivers, Allison Janney, Dominic Burgess, Heather Marie Pate, Tate Taylor, Victor Turpin, Margaret Fegan, Kyanna Simone Simpson, Skyler Joy, Andrew Matthew Welch, Nicole Carpenter/Runtime: 99 minutes

I think it can safely be said that the genre of movie magic that is the horror genre is having a wonderful moment at this point in time. By that I mean somehow not only is the quality of quite a few of the titles being released actually genuinely good, but we are also seeing a lot of these slices of cinema actually being embraced by both the “professional movie reviewing community” as well as the general movie going public and appreciated more as an art form and less as a collection of schlocky (albeit perversely delightful) tropes crammed into a less than 2 hours slice of cinema made on a miniscule budget that it will most likely make back in its first 2 days in theaters easily. Yes I guess I should say in all fairness that the reality of the situation is that a wonderful degree of quality has always been a part of the genre (Jaws, The Exorcist, the 1978 Halloween, Dawn of the Dead to name a few examples) and all that has occurred is that the creative minds behind making these slices of cinema are now genuinely trying to make them legitimately good again rather than the lazy cinematic equivalent of a skilled yet past his prime French mime holding up a sign that reads “Give Me Your Money Now!”. Wonderful degree of sarcasm aside, I do appreciate that these movies are actually getting behinds in seats once more. Not just because it permits reviewers like myself to have one less ulcer than we currently do to say nothing of show off movies that might have otherwise fallen tragically by the wayside, but it also permits movie goers to be able to see that when a horror film is genuinely good it can be just as potent on an emotional and thematic level as any other genre of movie magic. With that said however, I must confess that as much as I love the 2nd coming that the horror genre is having, I am also of the belief that not every single slice of horror cinema has to be “art of the utmost caliber” in order to be warmly embraced. Rather, sometimes you need a horror slice of cinema that is just gonzo, gritty, and just plain fun in every sense of the word. It is in that distinct category that the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today, 2019’s Ma, has decided to take up a wonderful residence and it is also in how much this slice of cinema genuinely takes pleasure in being part of this group that it manages to work on the level that it does.  Yes this slice of cinema is one that is actually fairly well-made and yes it does make you actually care about what happens to its cast of characters right down to its titular villain. At the same time though, this is also a slice of cinema that functions on the level that it does because it is very much aware of what kind of film it is to say nothing of being willing to embrace it 110% thus making this one slice of horror cinema that may be flawed, but is nevertheless still entertaining in every sense of the word.

The plot is as follows: Ma gets its frightening yarn underway by introducing us to our main heroine by the name of Maggie. Maggie, we rather quickly learn, is moving with her loving mother Erica from California all the way to the tiny and very tight-knit in nature community where her mom spent her formative years. Yet  unlike a lot of similar slices of cinema where our heroine would spend a fair amount of time on the fringe edge of her school’s social scene due to being the proverbial “new kid in town” we see that this thankfully is not the case for Maggie. In fact, she is actually able to make a wonderful group of friends including a new love interest rather quickly. Even better is the fact that she is actually to get the chance to spend time with all of them on a fairly regular basis since her mom is constantly working at her new job as a waitress at the local gaming establishment. Of course, it should come as no surprise to learn that with our group of teens being fairly regular teens they do seemingly every weekend enjoy the good party where engaging in certain substances of an alcoholic nature are very much par for the course. Of course for such a fiesta to occur, there is one requirement that needs to be fulfilled. Namely that our group needs to pour on their charm and locate an older child (or as they are also called in the world around us: an adult) who will be willing to purchase the booze they want. To that end, we see our group desperately hang out in the parking lot of the town liquor store and hope for an answer to their collective teenage prayer. Suffice it to say that we soon this prayer is answered when our group crosses paths with a seemingly kind and down to earth woman by the name of Sue Ann who seemingly makes their wildest teenage dream come true. This is because not only is she completely ok with purchasing alcohol for them, but she also offers them and everyone they know her house’s basement as a kind of safe haven for some truly lively fiestas to say nothing of all kinds of insanity-driven antics to go down to which the teen population in this town quickly starts taking advantage of with glee and enthusiasm in equal measure. Suffice it to say that whilst this is giving our heroine the chance to get to know her new friends, and love interest, a lot better it isn’t long before things start to go down a more insidious path as Sue Ann, now known as “Ma” by the teens in town, starts to get a bit on the fixated side with our heroine and her group of friends with particular regard to Maggie’s love interest. You see dear reader Ma has a secret or two of her own that she’s been withholding. Secrets that not only concern our group of young people, but that soon start to place them and their loved ones in the crosshairs of a maniacal woman who has no qualms about eliminating anyone who foolishly tries to get in her way of her and her obsessions…

Now I’m not gonna lie to you dear reader: I may get a fair bit of twistedly amusing mileage out of this slice of horror cinema, but behind the camera this is one film that is more than just a tad bit messy. For starters, the screenplay in this offers fairly little in the way of really fleshing out anyone in this aside from the titular character. As a result, we not only don’t learn as much about who the support cast of characters in this are as people, but we also don’t really get a sense that their behaviors and actions in this are really all that well thought-out in the slightest. Something that proves to be a bit problematic for every single person in that aforementioned group because not a single one of them is immune from making at least one seriously jaw-droppingly idiotic decision that will have you shaking your head and going “oh you’ve gotta be kidding me”. Of course, I guess I shouldn’t be too harsh about those things since this film is one that is really less about those things and more about being as wonderfully weird and engaging as possible and in that regard the film does work. Indeed rather than placing its concentration on legitimately scaring you, this horror film is one that (much like the 2nd and 3rd Sleepaway Camp films) is for those of you who can find fun in seeing a situation go gleefully downhill for a group of seriously clueless people once the main antagonist is brought into the picture. Yet lest you’re worried this film is using its best cards too quickly, I assure you that this is all merely setting the stage for some twistedly amusing “uhh…what?” kind of moments as well as some wonderfully novel to say nothing of particularly visceral ideas that it chooses to operate with to emerge. Ideas that make a lot more sense when you know that this slice of cinema is one that operates as a throwback to certain horror films from the 70s and 80s like Carrie, Willard, and yes Sleepaway Camp which talk about the potential perils that can come about when an ostracized individual seeks vengeance against those they feel have wronged them (thankfully no rats are involved this time). Yet in case the throwback vibe wasn’t obvious enough, the film does lean into it pretty heavily courtesy of the wonderfully old school soundtrack it operates with during the moments where the kids are partying at Ma’s house and the party music she works with includes such gems as  “Funkytown” and “Safety Dance”. Suffice it to say that the end results behind the camera might not always be on the level that we may want them to be, but at the same time there really is no denying that everyone involved still most likely had a genuinely fun time in bringing this slice of cinema together….or as together as the finished product seems to showcase.

Of course this brings us to the performances found in this slice of cinema and right off the bat I feel this section can best be summed up in two words: Octavia Spencer. Indeed I have always enjoyed it whenever she appears in a film and in this one Spencer is not only terrific, but easily having the time of her life playing an unhinged character that would have been some seriously concerning BFFs with Annie Wilkes from Misery back in the day. Indeed this is the kind of role that politely demands that whoever play it be willing to have some significant personality shifts as the movie goes along due to having to start out all chipper and sweet only to slowly start to show a significantly more deranged and maniacal side to just being downright unhinged by film’s end all while remaining surprisingly empathetic the more you learn about her. Suffice it to say that it is one acting challenge that Spencer shows she is more than willing to meet head-on. As a result, we see that not only does she give a genuinely chilling performance, but she helps elevate the overall quality of the film as well to such an extent that I can’t really see another actress, save for Kathy Bates, playing this character as brilliantly as she does. Suffice it to say that it is wonderfully psychotic performance that is a complete 180 from the vast majority of roles that she had taken on up to that point (and even since), but she still nevertheless manages to show that she has some terrific range and, even if the material isn’t quite consistently on the same level as her delightfully unhinged performance, I would love to see her play a villainess in another slice of cinema in the near future. Now in terms of the teen performers they’re not bad, but nothing really to write home about either. Out of all of them I feel like Diana Silvers, as Maggie, fares the best out of the group. However, that’s also mostly because she gets the most in terms of material which she does fairly well with and because she is the main character that we are following through this slowly-growing nightmare. Meanwhile, in terms of the adult co-stars in this they are once again by and large alright, but none of them really manage to rise to the wonderfully gonzo bar set by Spencer. Perhaps coming the closest is Luke Evans who does do a fairly good job in his role of the guy that Sue Ann was head over heels obsessed over back in the day. Indeed Evans has for a while now been one of my favorite actors for when you had a character that was either arrogant, a jerk, or an antagonist and in this one he proves to be a mix of all three. Yet intriguingly the film doesn’t really show that at first and instead actually makes him a little bit of a sympathetic character. As layers are peeled away however, and once you learn exactly what the movie wants you to know about him, it does prove to be twistedly satisfying in a sense to see where his character winds up in this film. As for the other three major adult parts in this consisting of turns from Juliette Lewis, Alison Janney, and Missi Pyle respectively I definitely feel that while all three are wonderful actresses and it is always a delight to see them in a movie I also felt that they were a bit wasted. Not just because their arcs in this were fairly run of the mill for this kind of film, but because their roles in this could have easily been played by anyone.

All in all ok so I will be the first to admit that Ma is by no means a perfect slice of cinema. At the same time though that doesn’t mean I didn’t really dig the heck out of this movie. Far from it actually. Yes there are quite a few flaws to be found in this slice of cinema such as the fact that a lot of the characters, aside from the titular character, really aren’t given that much in the way of characterization and it does take a while for the terror ball to begin rolling to name but a few issues this slice of cinema is saddled with. However, even with those in mind Ma still manages to be wonderful proof that sometimes a B movie in the realm of horror can still be an absolutely entertaining and wildly gonzo ride when everyone involved in the making of it is completely in on the joke and are willing to just kick back and have some twisted fun. Yes the work behind the camera is good albeit messy, and the cast is fun even if they aren’t given a whole lot in the way of characterization, but there is no denying that the big thing holding this entire slice of cinema together is the delightfully unhinged and game performance by a clearly having a blast Octavia Spencer in the titular role. Suffice it say that it might take you more than a minute to get on board with what exactly this slice of cinema is aiming for. Yet once you are able to comprehend just what this slice of cinema is wanting to pull off then it is by no means difficult to just sit back and enjoy where the film is choosing to take you. Thus, and at the end of the day, Ma is a wonderfully unpretentious and delightfully perverse horror film viewing experience that you should see with the largest group of friends possible and with the biggest bowl of popcorn imaginable. Trust me when I say that fun will surely be had by all and that each and every one of you will thank me later. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Ma “2019” a solid 3 out of 5.