Tag Archives: Tate Taylor

Ma (2019) Movie Review By Philip Henry

Ma Review

Director: Tate Taylor
Screenwriter: Scotty Landes
Stars: Octavia Spencer, Juliette Lewis, Diana Silvers

I went into this film only knowing it was a Blumhouse production, and if you want to enjoy it, I suggest you do the same. I’ve since seen other reviews online which say the trailer practically gives the whole film away.

I had a very different experience, but even going in ‘cold’ it didn’t take me long to see this wasn’t typical Blumhouse fare. Juliette Lewis and her daughter arrive in a new town. Lewis has got a job at a casino so her daughter Maggie (Diana Silvers) ends up spending a lot of time alone, until some cool kids befriend her and introduce her to the fun world of underage drinking. Only one problem: getting an adult to buy the booze for them. After several failed attempts, kindly Octavia Spencer agrees to buy them what they need, and then she suggests they hang out in her basement to drink if they need a safe place where the cops won’t stumble upon them.

OK, it’s a slightly odd offer, and Ma (as Spencer becomes known to the kids) has a very strange sense of humour, which should be a huge red flag no matter how intoxicated you are. But the kids think they’re in control of the situation so continue to use Ma’s basement, and pretty soon it becomes party-central for the school. But what are Ma’s real motives for having these kids in her house?

I think there’s an interesting point to be made here about gender politics, which seems to be influencing a lot of movies – for better or worse – currently. If the roles in this movie were reversed and some middle-aged man bought a bunch of kids alcohol and then invited them to his house he would probably be reported and in jail by suppertime, but a female character is somehow more trustworthy and less threatening… or at least that’s what we assume. Is suggesting women can be dangerous too another step towards equality?

This film wears its influences on its sleeve, with a very direct nod to Misery in the film as well as an ending that has echoes of Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Both are films about the emotional fallout after someone important to a main character is taken from them (even if one is fictional), and that’s the dominant theme in Ma too. But it’s Annie Wilkes not Mrs Danvers who is probably the best comparison to Ma. They both have a sweet personality that they show to the world, but if angered their claws can come out in a second.

Something this film gets right and lots of other films of its ilk get wrong is sympathy for the ‘monster’. This is a trait that goes right back to the 1933 King Kong. Even though he was ‘the baddie’ of the story, who didn’t get a lump in their throat when they saw the big ape plummet from the Empire State Building? Sometimes it’s more effective when the ‘monster’ of the film can be shown as just as much of a victim as those it preys upon. Ma is a very damaged character and I did feel for her, partly due to Octavia’s Spencer’s brilliant portrayal. Her past might not excuse her actions, but it does explain them to some extent.

Overall Ma is a solid little thriller. It ends very abruptly and I would’ve preferred a little epilogue to tie a few things up, but that aside it’s very watchable. There’s no supernatural element so I hesitate to call it a horror, despite its stable. It could’ve been much more brutal and raw, but Blumhouse have made no apologies about aiming their films at the teen demographic, and with this film’s message about bullying and its effects they’re probably right on target. So don’t expect anything like Misery’s hobbling scene, which will stick in your mind for days (or years?) after. It’s scary with a small ‘s’ but for a teen date-movie it’ll do the trick.

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The Girl on the Train (2016) Movie Review by Kevan McLaughlin

GIRL ON THE TRAIN

Director: Tate Taylor
Writers: Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay),  Paula Hawkins (novel)
Stars: Emily Blunt,  Haley Bennett,  Rebecca Ferguson

As paranoid as a curving bullet made of steel-melting jet fuel fired by a lizard-person.
Rachel Watson (Blunt) is a drunk who is prone to blackouts and fits of rage which effectively ended her marriage to Tom (Theroux). Even though Tom was caught cheating on Rachel with their real estate agent Anna (Ferguson), he’s portrayed sympathetically as he’s seen to be the one who’s often been at the wrong end of Rachel’s abuse and constant embarrassing behaviour, most notably when she caused a scene at an office party which lead to him being fired by his boss (Lisa Kudrow).

Now divorced from Tom, Rachel spends her time stalking and harassing her ex and Anna, who is now married to. Rachel is also living with her friend Cathy (Laura Prepon) but lies about having the job she was fired from. To conceal how bad things are for the depressed alcoholic Rachel, she spends her days travelling to the city by train so her friend won’t find out the truth. During these daily journeys Rachel is almost always drunk, which has become apparent to some of her fellow commuters.

The train journey she takes every day passes directly by her old house, now inhabited by Tom, Anna and their beautiful daughter. But, as is the case with a lot of addicts, Rachel develops new obsessions. Her latest fixation is Tom and Anna’s neighbours, Megan and Scott Hipwell (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans, respectively). Rachel idealises Megan and Scott’s relationship, imagining them as the perfect couple. Of course, all of this is based on fleeting glimpses of their lives as she whizzes past on the train through a haze of vodka.

When Rachel spots Megan, whom she has never actually met, kissing another man she drunkenly departs the train, distraught at the thought of Megan ruining this rosé wine-tinted fantasy she’s concocted to confront her. Unfortunately, that’s the last thing Rachel remembers as she awakes in her apartment from a blackout.

When Megan is reported missing and presumed dead Detective Riley (Allison Janney) questions Rachel, believing her to be involved somehow, due to reports of her unpredictable behaviour. This is where Rachel really goes off the deep end. Posing as Megan’s friend, she approaches Scott and informs him of the affair. Scott identifies the other man as Megan’s therapist, Dr. Kamal Abdic. She then makes an appointment with Kamal, pretending to seek therapy. The irony is not at all subtle here.

It’s apparent that Rachel, like almost all addicts, can’t fully trust that even a broken clock is right twice a day. She goes from one erratic theory to another, pointing fingers in an attempt to solve the disappearance of Megan and finally have some closure to why, from her point of view, this perfectly happy young woman’s life was thrown or taken away. Rachel sees herself in Megan, but doesn’t want to let anything happen to ruin the latter’s life the way it did her own.

The truth is that Megan and Scott’s marriage is far from happy. Scott is jealous and controlling and has quite the temper. Megan is depressed and going through the motions. Kamal’s career would be at risk if rumours were to spread of him having an affair with a patient. And Rachel herself is erratic, has a history of violent outbursts and can’t seem to trust her own judgment.

The Girl on the Train is icy cold and fraught with peril. There’s an uneasy, almost sickly, tone pulsating throughout the film. Blunt is superb as the spiraling drunk. She plays Rachel with such empathy and sadness it’s hard not to root for her. Rachel is complex and that’s, in no small way, down to Emily Blunt’s performance. It’s hard to hate her but she’s also difficult to like.

Bennett’s performance as Megan is tragic. She’s icy cold and with good reason. Her early life, in a series of flashbacks, will break the hardest of hearts.

With tension like this it’s difficult to like this film. It’s difficult to like feeling tense for almost two hours. But it’s a compelling movie. Riveting, even. With such great acting on display it’s an enjoyable way to feel uncomfortable and frustrated.