I went into MA wanting to like it. In spite of lukewarm reviews, I was hoping it would be something special. It features a talented cast of characters and comes from a director with an impressive pedigree. But, nonetheless, it falls flat more often than not.
Here’s the setup: MA follows a group of teenage friends who recklessly make a series of poor decisions in rapid succession, never stopping to ask themselves if the unhinged woman buying them booze and allowing them to party in her basement may have ulterior motives for her perceived generosity. What could possibly go wrong? Well, it turns out, a lot.
One of MA’s biggest weaknesses is a tepid script from Scotty Landes (Deadcon). His screenplay doesn’t bring a lot of originality to the table. Most of the major plot points are predictable in advance of actually unfolding onscreen. Also, the lack of common sense displayed by the young cast is often appalling. I was in high school once and I definitely understand the allure of a free flowing supply of alcohol and a place to party to a teenager. But, at some point, one’s better judgment must take over and force them to question the motives behind the gesture.
Moreover, the scares are pretty tame and the body count is really low. A high body count is never a requisite factor for a winning horror film but a low body count certainly doesn’t help a genre picture that already appears to be struggling to find its footing.
There’s an anti-bullying message lurking right beneath the surface but it’s not particularly poignant. And it’s actually a little strange to see Blumhouse churning out a film that shares a remarkably similar skeletal outline with their far superior 2015 horror thriller, The Gift. Both films catch up later in life with a high school outcast seeking revenge for a humiliating experience from their past. While The Gift uses the premise to maximum effect, MA flounders and never truly captivates its audience.
Another issue I had with the script is that some of the dialogue already feels dated. It seems weird to say that about a film that was just released, yet I can’t help but feel that way. I find it peculiar for primary protagonist Maggie’s (Diana Silvers of Glass) friend Haley (McKaley Miller of TV’s Scream Queens) to have to proclaim “I’m not, like, a lesbian or anything,” immediately after complimenting Maggie’s butt. This is 2019. Are we still in a place where we have to say ‘no homo’ after things get too gay?
As I mentioned earlier, MA has a terrific cast of characters. Academy Award winning actress Octavia Spencer (Ma/Sue Ann) is undoubtedly talented but director Tate Taylor (The Girl on the Train) doesn’t seem to be able to get everyone on the same page. In fact, sometimes it feels like Spencer is in a different film than the rest of the cast. In many of her scenes, she comes across as more comical than menacing. The sequence where she’s cutting out pictures for her collage of crazy is a great example of that. It’s difficult to take her seriously or see her as ominous when her performance is often very over the top. Sometimes even laughable.
The always enjoyable Juliette Lewis is perfectly serviceable as primary protagonist Maggie’s mother. But even she can only do so much.
The brilliant Allison Janney is great as Sue Anne’s boss at the veterinary clinic. It’s an utter shame Janney didn’t have more screen time. She’s around long enough to deliver a couple of perfectly-timed one liners but that’s about it.
As far as the teenage cast, Diana Silvers (Maggie) shows promise in her first (sizable) feature film role. She’s relatable and does a convincing job of often being the sole voice of reason in her peer group. McKaley Miller also delivers a memorable turn as Maggie’s friend Haley.
Ultimately, good performances from the supporting cast make the film more enjoyable than it otherwise might have been but that’s not enough to warrant going out of your way to check out MA which is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and DigitalHD.
As far as special features, there are a metric f**k ton of deleted scenes included in the home video release, none of which really add much to the narrative, save for an alternate/extended ending scene that gives viewers a look at the fate of the core cast after the final showdown with Ma. Also included in the home video release are a couple of very brief featurettes diving into the Ma character as well as the roles embodied by the teenage cast members. It was nice to get a bit of perspective from Octavia Spencer on what she was going for with the Sue Ann/Ma character but even with the added context, her performance still reads as hammy and over the top.
WICKED RATING: 4.5/10
Director(s): Tate Taylor
Writer(s): Scotty Landes
Stars: Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis
Release date: September 3, 2019 (Blu-ray)
Studio/Production Company: Blumhouse, Universal
Run Time: 99 minutes