Ma (2019)

dir. Tate Taylor

Ma was always advertised as a film where a group of teenagers decide to party out in a woman’s basement, only for the woman to barricade them in and torment them. As a premise, this genuinely isn’t bad. The claustrophobic setting of the basement adds to the dread, only compounded by the characters’ regret – of course they must be desperately wishing they’d never come in the basement. Except, the problem with Ma is that it’s drawn out over a much longer and frankly weirder story, over which the teenagers and their friends come and go from Ma’s abode, several times over, even returning when she’s done utterly insane things like forcing a teenager to strip at gunpoint. It is extremely difficult to sympathise with these teenagers when they keep willingly returning to spend time with a demonstrably unhinged, violent person. Despite flashbacks to her childhood where she’s bullied and sexually abused, it’s also extremely difficult to sympathise with the Ma character, considering she, you know, forces teenagers to strip at gunpoint. Not to mention the casual drugging and Munchausen by proxy. The whole story is very tired – it’s obvious from the get-go that the teenagers’ parents were Ma’s school contemporaries, so their involvement in her bullying is far from a shock. Whether the conclusion is meant to be a kind of bittersweet tragedy is up for debate, but mostly it just continues the head-scratching and shrugging shoulders provoked by the rest of the movie.

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