Do You Know Where Your Children Are? “Ma” Does, and It’s Not Good.
High school tell stories of fun, dating, sex, and cliques. High school horror films do the same thing but add death, torture and blood. “Ma” is a teen horror film, and in ‘Ma” modern teens have enough problems dealing with social cliques and underage drinking. But they go to the same high school as their parents did, and it’s just too bad that their parents were such dicks.
Maggie (Diana Silvers) and her single mom, Erica (Juliette Lewis), leave California to move back to mom’s old hometown. It’s an unnamed small town hidden in the woods with a decent sized casino. Mom returns home first to waitress at said casino while training to deal cards. If that’s not a come down for mom, wearing the skimpy cocktail waitress uniform certainly is.
Maggie is a young girl of shallow emotion. The first day at school, she helps out one of the few black students, a wheelchair bound girl named Genie (Tanyell Waivers). But soon she falls into the clutches of the popular kids. Bound by a common desire to buy booze and aimlessly search for a quiet place to drink it, Maggie becomes an integral member of the pack.
She falls in love with Andy (Corey Fogelmanis). He is sweet, a little shy and super cute. His father is an asshole. The only other female in the bunch is Hayley (Mckaley Miller), the requisite blonde mean girl. Rounding out the pack is Chaz (Gianni Paolo) and Darrell (Dante Brown), the only other black student in the film. Basically we are led to believe they are all nice kids. In a generational twist, it is with the awful older generation that the trouble all began.
On her first booze buying adventure, Maggie gets help from Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer), a very nice older woman who buys the kids their hooch. Sue Ann works at the local vet clinic where she has troubles with daydreaming. Soon she offers the kids her basement for safe drinking and partying. It is not long before the entire high school partakes. Sue Ann becomes Ma and looks happier than she has ever been.
Then the trouble begins. Hayley and Maggie have to pee. The basement facilities are occupied. Hayley decides to use the facilities upstairs, even though Ma has a strict rule about teenage partiers going up into the main house. Angry, Ma confronts them. Instead of apologizing, Hayley messages everyone at school to block Ma. And everyone at her high school blocks Ma. Ma gets sad. Now things really start to get weird. Ma has secrets. They involve Andy’s father and Maggie’s mother. They concern what’s upstairs in the main house. Things are going to turn deadly.
The performances are strong. Spencer is always exceptional, even with light material like this. Kyanna Simone Simpson turns in a heartbreaking performance as the young Sue Ann, full of pathos. Juliette Lewis has always been an incredible actress but this normal mom role is something new. Miller as bratty Hayley is oddly the most likable of the bunch, maybe because she shows personality.
The elephant in the room is race, which isn’t brought up at all. The only racial remark comes from Ma and is directed at Darrell, one of the only other black people. Is it because the filmmakers are truly colorblind? That racial bias had nothing to do with Sue Ann’s woes? Or did they decide not to point out something that they might consider obvious? Director Tate Taylor also directed “The Help,” which won Spencer for first Oscar for Best Supporting Actress; so one can assume he is more aware than he is letting on.
Overall the movie is well structured, intense and suspenseful. It slowly but inevitably builds to a crescendo of revenge and death.
“Ma” can also be seen as a generational story. Pains were taken to present the youth as basically good, with sincere motivations. When the lame apologies of her mother fail, it is the actions and words of Maggie that empowers and sets her generation apart from that of her parents.
“Ma” opens May 31 nationwide.