[Screen It]


(2019) (Octavia Spencer, Diane Silvers) (R)

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Horror: A woman invites teens to party in her basement, with them unaware of her ulterior motives.
Maggie (DIANE SILVERS) is a 16-year-old who's just moved with her single mother, Erica (JULIETTE LEWIS), back to the latter's hometown where she went to high school with the likes of Ben (LUKE EVANS) who runs a security company; his girlfriend Mercedes (MISSI PYLE); and the woman they humiliated back then -- Sue Ann (OCTAVIA SPENCER) -- who now works for Dr. Brooks (ALLISON JANNEY) as a veterinary assistant and has a sick teenage daughter, Genie (TANYELL WAIVERS), who spends most of her time at home.

Maggie ends up joining a small circle of friends that includes Haley (McKALEY MILLER), Chaz (GIANNI PAOLO), Darrell (DANTE BROWN) and Ben's son, Andy (COREY FOGELMANIS). They like to party and end up getting Maggie to ask strangers to buy liquor for them. Most say no, but Sue Ann decides to comply, saying she used to drink with friends at the same remote location. That eventually leads to Sue Ann holding teen parties at her house, segueing between being a mother hen type chaperone to a wild partygoer herself.

But as those parties continue, some of the teen friends begin to feel uncomfortable with the situation, all of which causes Sue Ann to become clingy and eventually reveal her true, ulterior motives.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
As it always boils down to a simple numbers ratio (along with some bad parenting and some young people simply being jerks), many kids view people several decades older than them as ancient and over the hill. After all, a 10-year-old only has that decade of his or her life to use as a comparison, and thus someone who's, say, fifty, has obviously lapped the sun a lot of times, usually in a far more "primitive" technological state.

But being someone who's on the north side of fifty, I must inform all young people that the vast majority of us still feel like a young person inside. That is, when some physical ailment or viewing oneself in photos, videos or a mirror doesn't remind us of nature's cruel intentions.

Of course, such youthful thinking can get a lot of us in trouble. For starters, there's the "I can lift that" mindset that was probably accurate in one's teens and twenties, but declines with each passing decade while the likelihood of injury increases. Likewise, and with that mindset, we often look at some younger attractive person the same way we did at their age and end up creeping them out. And don't get me started on alcohol.

Speaking of which, that's essentially the kicking off point of the horror flick "Ma" where a small group of high school students want someone old enough to buy them booze. Most refuse, but then along comes Su Ann (Octavia Spencer) a veterinary clinic assistant of an undetermined age but let's put her somewhere in her forties or so.

Saying she remembers what it was like at that age and having done similar things, she scores the kids some liquor, later does so again, and then invites them over to her basement to party. Her initial reasoning is along the mother hen lines that if they're going to drink anyway, they might as well do so in a supervised area where she can make sure there's a designated driver.

But Sue Ann then forgets her age and decides to party with the youngsters (played by Diana Silvers, McKaley Miller, Corey Fogelmanis, Gianni Paolo, and Dante Brown) who at first think she's a hoot, but then realize she's clinging a bit too much to the fantasy of being young again, and then to them. And just like it's not nice to fool with Mother Nature, it's not nice to ditch and diss Sue Ann lest one feel her displeasure and eventual, unhinged wrath.

Written by Scotty Landes and directed by Tate Taylor, the film ends up going so over the top that even bats would say their droppings aren't anywhere that crazy. But, oddly keeping with the sudden animal motifs here, it lets the cat out of the bag too soon in showing flashbacks to Sue Ann's high school days that keep progressing toward something we obviously realize was traumatic and is now fueling her comeuppance behavior.

Thus, we're always a step or two or three ahead of the teens, but even with that superior perspective, the thrills and chills just aren't there enough. Sure, things end up going wackadoodle and you might end up gasping in guilty pleasure delight (or shock or horror) at the levels to which the villain goes to dispatch payback against both her former tormentors (played by the likes of Luke Evans, Missi Pyle, and Juliette Lewis) and some of their progeny.

But the latter lacks the choreography and sheer abundance of similar material in, say, the "John Wick" films. Instead, it's just there for shock value and shock value alone, some of which is admittedly effective at times, but doesn't build to anything on a cumulative level. Certain to make young people even warier of older folk than they already are, "Ma" has some moments that work, but not enough to earn more than a 4 out of 10 rating.

Reviewed May 28, 2019 / Posted May 31, 2019

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