During the opening scene of “MA,” Erica, played by Oscar nominee Juliette Lewis (Cape Fear), and her teenage daughter, Maggie (Diana Silvers), have arrived from California at their new home. The small town they’ve moved to, in Ohio, is where Erica grew up. The reason for the move is that Erica, who is divorced, has been hired by a local casino. Erica’s new job requires her to be away for many hours, and even on a day where she and Maggie had plans to attend a music festival, she’s called in to cover someone’s shift. She has to go in, because as she states to Maggie, she’s the new employee and she can’t say no.
Maggie, is eating alone, on her first day at her new school, when she is approached by Haley (McKaley Miller), and Haley’s friends: Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), Chaz (Gianni Paolo), and Darrell (Dante Brown). Haley invites Maggie to come party with her and her friends, and due to her mother cancelling plans to attend the festival, it doesn’t take Maggie long to say yes. Unbeknownst to Maggie, the town’s teens version of partying, is getting an adult to buy them liquor, and then proceeding to get drunk out at the rock quarry. Maggie, on her first time out, is able to persuade lonely, veterinarian assistant, Sue Ann, portrayed by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) to purchase alcohol for her and her friends. Sue Ann returns with the alcohol, and the teens are off to party. Sue Ann, at that moment in the film, seems like an easy going adult, who remembers what it was like to be that age, but she’s really not. In fact, later on that day, while at work, she calls Ben (Luke Evans), the father of one of the teens, and informs him of what his son, Chris, and his friends are doing, and where they are. The police are called, but fortunately for the teens they’re let go with a warning. Sue Ann’s motivation for her actions will soon become clear. (As an aside: The talents of Oscar winner Allison Janney (I, Tonya) are completely wasted in the throw away role of Sue Ann’s boss, Dr. Brooks).
While at work, Sue Ann begins checking the teens’ social media accounts, learning their names, likes, dislikes, etc; She knows where they go to school, because she herself attended the same school when she was their age. Flashbacks show a teenage Sue Ann (Kyanna Simone Simpson) being used and abused by her more popular classmates. Sue Ann is still haunted by the traumatic experiences of her youth, which makes her, for a time, during the film, a sympathetic character.
The next time Sue Ann encounters the teens, she knows full well that they can’t return to the rock quarry to party, so she offers her basement as a safe place for them to spend time, and drink. She claims she would hate if anything were to happen to them, if they got behind the wheel drunk and got into an accident. Sue Ann, who Darrell nicknames ‘ma,’ a name which will stick, only has two rules: Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, and don’t venture upstairs where she lives. One of the teens remarks that if Sue Ann made some adjustments to the way the basement is set up, that it could be a great place to party. Sue Ann takes the cue from the teens, and does just that, transforming the basement. The next time there is a party at her place, the music is blasting, shot glasses are filled to the brim, and food is served. Soon afterward, it is no longer just Maggie and her friends who are spending time there, but lots of other high school students, who are thrilled to have a place where they know they can go to party, and won’t get into trouble. The teens’ dependence on Sue Ann seemingly gives her a sense of being needed, and as previously mentioned, she is popular for the first time in her life. Sue Ann, however, begins to revel too much in her new found popularity, and begins to go overboard. She craves the gratification of feeling wanted and needed, seemingly every night of the week, and having felt emotions that have always been foreign to her, she is extremely reluctant to take no for an answer. She begins constantly texting Maggie and her friends, and even shows up at their school to confront them, as to why they’re ignoring her.
What lengths will Sue Ann go to, in order to keep the teens in her life? Why does she care so much about Maggie and her friends, as opposed to all of the other teenagers who love partying at her house? What secret, if any, is Sue Ann trying to keep hidden from the teens, that has to do with her house? All of those questions and more will be answered during the film’s 99 minute runtime.
The parts horror and thriller “MA” premiered on May 30, 2019 in multiple countries. The film was directed by BAFTA nominee Tate Taylor (The Help), and the screenplay was written by Scotty Landes (Workaholics). Spencer does an excellent job with the material she’s given, but she can’t save the film from being a B movie. All of the cast, for that matter, do a competent job with their mostly underdeveloped characters. The pacing was also problematic, because nothing very interesting transpires during the first half of the film. When the film does begin to ramp up the thrills, they are, for the most part, predictable. I think the film had the potential to be much more than it turned out to be, and would’ve been with a stronger script and better execution of the pacing.