What do you get when you throw Don’t Breathe, Misery and Wes Craven into a giant, blood-soaked blender and mix it all together? Ma. You get Ma.
Ma is a new psychological horror film that comes from The Help, Get on Up and The Girl on the Train director Tate Taylor. Say what you will about the man, as some of his movies are definitely better than others (The Girl on the Train is, uh, not great), but he’s certainly got a wide range.
Sue Ann Ellington (Octavia Spencer) never wanted to hurt anybody. In fact, if you had met her in high school, you wouldn’t have thought she was capable of hurting a fly.
Time changed her, though. Due to an unruly amount of bullying, Sue Ann grew up to be a bitter, hardened woman who no longer trusts anyone or anything. Even her job at the veterinarian clinic (her boss is very randomly played by the Academy Award-winning Allison Janney in a role that seems like it was mostly edited out) doesn’t calm her nerves enough to believe there might be some good out there.
That’s when Maggie Thompson (Booksmart’s Diana Silvers) walks into her life.
While Maggie is new to town, her mother — Erica (Juliette Lewis, not Melissa Fumero like I had thought based on the trailers) — is not. She grew up in this little Ohio village many years ago, having once left to trying and make it big in Los Angeles.
Erica, in fact, went to high school with Sue Ann, amongst others. And while Erica’s memory might be a little foggy as to who Sue Ann is or what they did to her all those years ago, Sue Ann hasn’t forgotten.
No, she remembers everything.
It’s when Maggie and her friends — Haley (McKaley Miller), Andy (Corey Hawkins), Chaz (Gianni Paolo) and Darrell (Dante Brown) — approach Sue Ann (who they quickly nickname ‘Ma’) outside a liquor store to ask her to buy them some booze one weekend when the idea of revenge begins to form in Sue Ann’s mind.
She invites the squad back to her house, saying she’ll provide them with a safe space to drink (“I just can’t bear the thought of waking up to hear you died in a crash because you were out around drinking!” she manipulatively tells them). The high schoolers feel a little weird about this at first, as one might when a middle-aged woman you’ve never met invites you back to her house, but, hey, she’s probably harmless, right?
With that initial night being nothing but a good time, Ma’s house quickly becomes the hottest hangout spot in all of town. That’s when Sue Ann decides to act, then causing things to go bad. Really, really bad.
That’s all you really need to know about Ma, despite the fact that the trailers themselves let on to way more than that. They might not show what happened to Sue Ann back in high school, but the promotional material still spells out pretty much everything else that happens in this movie in the same way that Brightburn’s trailers did. Can we maybe, like, stop doing that, please?
Point is, you’re not going to be all that surprised with where Ma winds up going. In fact, even if you hadn’t seen a single trailer, most people will probably be able to predict what’s going to happen, who’s going to make it out and who’s going to die long before it actually happens.
That, in retrospect, doesn’t really matter. Ma was never trying to be something really high-concept or mind-bending. It’s just trying to be simple, effective and unsetting (Taylor allegedly walked into Jason Blum’s office and told him he wanted “to do something really f-ed up”), which is where this film succeeds.
Before we go any further, we really need to talk about Octavia Spencer’s performance, because she’s a hoot. Seeing Spencer go from something like Hidden Figures to The Shape of Water and now to Ma is really entertaining because there’s seemingly no end to what she can do.
And she’s fun in this. You can tell Spencer is having fun with the role and really digging her teeth into the character, especially earlier on when she gets to both party with teenagers and still act creepy at the same time. That translates into a really entertaining, really unique kind of performance we really don’t see many top-notch actors go in for these days.
Silvers impressed me in this, too. Based on the trailers, I had kind of assumed she would practically be playing the same character that she did in Booksmart, but there’s actually more to her than that. Since she’s new in town, she’s trying to make friends and not ruin people’s good time by stepping on anyone’s toes — yet, she’s the first to kind of realize that something is wrong with Ma, which then causes some internal conflicts of her own.
Those internal conflicts then stretch out to her mom and the rest of her friend’s parents, as this really is a Wes Craven, Nightmare on Elm Street kind of concept where the sins of one's mother or father reflect on the sins of oneself.
There are some other messages thrown in here about teenage partying, complacency or how all high schoolers pretty much suck. Some of those themes work better than others, but they all still serve this overall story of Ma that drives us to that nail-biting ending that’ll leave you squirming in your seat.
Ma isn’t the best or original horror movie I’ve seen this year — it’s no Us. Yet, it’s no Pet Sematary or Happy Death Day 2U, either, as I didn’t come out of this one feeling like I needed more. Ma accomplishes exactly what it wants to do and, in that, does it pretty effectively. Even if you can see where things are going, it’s still an entertaining ride nonetheless. It’s chilling. It’s pointed. It’s fun. What more could you want?
Watch the trailer for Ma here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the film!
'Ma' - Me oh my oh ma, what a film [REVIEW]7