I saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the original 1974 one, at a drive-in, which is not the greatest place to see a movie for a movie’s sake, but even in that setting, the movie scared the crap out of me. I don’t know how it holds up now, but there is a particular sequence I’ll never forget, where a person is captured and held completely at the mercy of an insular group of misfits. Ma has a moment like that, and it really seems to be reaching for that kind of horror, the shock and gruesomeness of real life, on top of a big pile of depressing and uncomfortable scenes that could be used as parts of a teen comedy, but rendered as grim and disturbing social-media creepiness with no apparent moral center, for most of the film.
This movie starts out with the vibe of one of those indie flicks that doesn’t care if you like it, that almost wants you not to like it, just so that you will feel SOMETHING, and seriously, if you are an empathetic person, there’s such tremendous pressure of emotional stress and sadness here that some of the blunt physical violence is a relief, getting you back to that suspension-of-disbelief feeling of movie violence. There’s even some racial stuff, to try and figure out in your after-movie discussion, urgh!
We are introduced to a bunch of teenagers who get a stranger (Octavia Spencer) to go into a liquor store for them. She takes charge of everything, including the movie. She’s creepy and sad. This is the feel-bad movie of the spring. She’s like the Hannibal Lecter of depressed people who are doing a really bad job of raising a child while finding a way to fix her outsider past by attempting to relive her youthful party years with a bunch of kids she’s too old to be hanging out with. She tells the kids to call her “Ma.” It’s hard to look her in the eye. She’s pitiful and awful and terrifying.
This picture also has the typical format of horny teens facing consequences for being horny and stupidly teenaged, plus adults getting brought to book for their offenses as shitty teenagers, plus other adult characters dealing with ordinary adversity and sadness in life. Also there’s lots of DON’T GO IN THERE going in there. Diana Silvers is very good as the teenager we care about the most in the movie, and Juliette Lewis is a good call as the teenager’s mom who left for the coast, but ended up back in her hometown after a failed marriage and is now working in a casino slinging drinks and has to explain herself to assholes she knew from high school.
Up until about halfway through this thing, you start wondering where it’s all going to end up, but then it devolves into a routine story with a regular movie ending, which is too bad, I guess, maybe they’re trying to protect the possibility of a franchise, but I’m not sure if I could have taken it if this movie had decided to go really brutal and not just be a movie. Loneliness, sadness, suffering, hopelessness, despair, it’s only a movie.