High school sucked. Bullies made that place a living nightmare, and it made a lot of us middle-agers have some PTSD moments from hell that we bury on the daily. It was a bad place, so for me, MA (2019) isn’t a tale of a banana-pants crazy chick fucking with teenagers. No, not at all. MA is actually about a woman who was traumatized and never received proper treatment. The desire for acceptance and revenge makes her already fragile mind snap, and she makes some poor decisions.
Sue Ann/Ma (Octavia Spencer) isn’t over what popular boy Ben (Luke Evans) did to her when they were teenagers. He used her, abused her and tricked her into giving another dude a blowjob. He’s a predator and I hate him. To Ma, it doesn’t matter that he grew up to be screwing the trashiest skank in town (Missi Pyle) or that everyone thinks he’s a loser. A big part of Sue Ann still resides at age 15, where Ben’s the big man on campus and she’s the gal everyone fucked with.
When she finds out that Ben’s son is Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), a teen trying to score alcohol from her, it ignites all of the old fears, angers and resentments. Spencer does a great job showing the contradictory emotions that Sue Ann feels at once. She wants to appear cool, attractive and finally feel as though she fits in. That’s something even as an adult, she has never felt. Simultaneously, the emotions of anger, rage, jealousy and hatred fuel her. She was seriously damaged by Ben and all of his asshole friends.
She is so damaged that glimpses of Munchausen syndrome by proxy can be seen in the way she treats her daughter Genie (Tanyell Waivers). I don’t think Ma hates Genie. She wants to protect her from the treatment she endured, and goes about it in the worst way possible. That doesn’t minimize the abuse, but it does add perspective.
Things definitely get worse as the new teens in her life start ditching her and others just take advantage. Admittedly, the kids have a reason to be concerned. Their intuition, especially Darrell (Dante Brown) and Maggie’s (Diana Silvers) is right on point. Those two knew fairly quickly that something wasn’t right with Sue Ann. Still, in an odd way their abandonment sets in motion the worst of her breakdown.
If not bad enough, Ben resurfaces and cuts open old wounds. God, I hate Ben. I’d pay for an additional cut of this flick just to see Ben die 6,000 different ways. There is part of me that wonders what type of woman Sue Ann would have been had she not been abused in her youth. My guess is a pretty damn awesome one. Had she a lot more confidence and a lot less trauma, she would genuinely be the life of parties. There are aspects of her that are truly fun. Sure, she tries too hard and she has a short fuse, but otherwise, she’s the cat’s meow.
I also wonder if she hadn’t felt so dejected and rejected by the teens she opened her house to, if her confidence would have been rebuilt. She was pretty far gone and already hurting her daughter by that time, but I do think there was a potential for her to get well. There were so many ways to reduce the damage, but all involved kept pushing her further and further into a dark spiral.
Even Maggie’s mother Erica (Juliette Lewis) was a royal bitch. Sure, she’s watching out for her daughter now, but where the fuck was she when Sue Ann needed her? She was a bystander in high school to the awful shit Ben did. One can argue that she was young, stupid and in self-preservation mode, but that only goes so far. As an adult, she could have initially been far more apologetic to Sue Ann than she was. I get she was watching out for Maggie and fearful of Sue Ann’s mindset, but who drove Ma to that mindset? Any way you cut it, Erica is partially to blame. She was an observer of trauma and remained silent.
One may argue, why does Ma take her anger out on the children? Why not just attack her old classmates. I think there’s a valid reason for that. She doesn’t just see the kids as who they are now. She believes them to be the same level scum that she encountered – and some prove to be. Certain teens she gets booze for, yell profanities at her and throw the shit she bought for them on her car window. She doesn’t see any difference between when she went to school and the here-and-now. That’s further proven by the way she acts towards her daughter. In efforts to protect Genie, she abuses her. Now sadly, the abuse goes beyond just sheltering Genie. Her rage gets the best of her more than once, and I feel worse for Genie than anyone else.
Overall, I highly recommend MA. It has more going on than what is on the surface. The story is solid and the characters interesting. It also isn’t pretentious like GRETA (2018) which shared a somewhat similar plot regarding an adult obsessed with a teen. Unlike GRETA, MA was far more interested in telling an intelligent story rather than giving the appearance of a film written by an intelligent person. I can’t stand productions that need to give themselves a rectal exam to feel competent. If you’re that far up your own ass, count me out!
MA stays away from all pretention. It tells a story. It has some sub-plots, but everything is tied together nicely. The dialogue is natural and doesn’t rely on flowery or grandiloquent language. See GRETA, I know big words too, so fuck off.
MA is much more in the vein of CARRIE (1976) or PLAY MISTY FOR ME (1971) with a hint of a more serious SHOCK EM DEAD (1991) or TRICK OR TREAT (1986). To put it plainly, it’s mighty good fun.
Scared Stiff Rating: 8/10