Octavia Spencer sinks her teeth into her villain role with 'Ma.'
Release Date: May 31, 2019
MPAA Rating: R
A lonely woman befriends a group of teenagers and decides to let them party at her house. Just when the kids think their luck couldn’t get any better, things start happening that make them question the intention of their host.
Director: Tate Taylor
Screenwriter: Scotty Landes
Producers: Jason Blum, John Norris, Tate Taylor
Cast: Octavia Spencer (Sue Ann/Ma), Diana Silvers (Maggie), Juliette Lewis (Erica), McKaley Miller (Haley), Corey Fogelmanis (Andy), Gianni Paolo (Chaz), Dante Brown (Darrell), Tanyell Waivers (Genie), Luke Evans (Ben), Missi Pyle (Mercedes), Allison Janney (Doctor Brooks)
Editors: Lucy Donaldson, Jin Lee
Cinematographer: Christina Voros
Production Designer: Marc Fisichella
Casting Directors: Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee
Music Score: Gregory Tripi
There appears to be a trend in 2019 where respected actors “slum it” in low-budget horror movies. First, we had Academy Award nominee Isabelle Huppert in the fantastic Greta. Then we got Golden Globe nominee Dennis Quaid in the iffy The Intruder. Now, we have three-time Oscar nominee (and one-time winner for The Help) Octavia Spencer in Ma.
Ma is about a teenage girl named Maggie (Diana Silvers from Booksmart) who, thanks to the divorce of her parents, is forced to move from California to the small town in which her mother, Erica (Nerve’s Juliette Lewis) grew up. Maggie has no trouble making friends, but her new crowd’s idea of fun is convincing an adult to buy them alcohol so that they can drink at a deserted rock quarry.
One evening, they approach a woman named Sue Ann (Spencer), who not only purchases their booze for them, but invites them back to her basement and allows them to use it for their party. Asking to be called “Ma,” Sue Ann claims to just want the kids to have a safe place to hang out. But, as Ma’s basement becomes the hot party pad for the entire high school, the kids figure out that their new adult friend has ulterior motives for letting them drink at her place.
There’s sort of a weird pedigree to Ma. Not only does the little horror film star the “legitimate” actress Octavia Spencer, but it was written by comedy scribe Scotty Landes (“Workaholics”) and directed by Spencer’s friend (and The Help director) Tate Taylor (who also directed Get On Up and The Girl on the Train). That may not seem like a recipe for horror greatness, but considering that the best horror movies of the last two years, A Quiet Place and Get Out, have come from the minds of comedians, well, Ma makes sense. It also makes sense that it is a Blumhouse film, as it fits the production house’s style like a glove.
Ma is essentially the movie that horror fans want it to be. It’s got relatable characters, a familiar-yet-unique premise, and plenty of plot twists that keep the audience guessing until the final act. And it’s got a wonderfully chilling performance from Octavia Spencer, who hams it up just as well (if not better) than Huppert and Quaid did in their respective horror roles from earlier this year.
Of course, Ma wouldn’t be a horror movie without bad decisions, and Maggie and her friends make a ton of them (who the hell just starts hanging out in a stranger’s basement, anyway?). But once the viewer remembers that, like the protagonists of all horror movies, Maggie and her pals are teenagers desperate for a place to fit in and have fun, things make a little more sense. And the bad decisions lead to all of the suspenseful and exciting events of the movie. So, we’re going to suspend our disbelief for a while and allow the stupidity.
Ma seems like the kind of movie that Octavia Spencer and Tate Taylor have been wanting to make ever since The Help. It’s an economical movie, simple in both its storyline and its execution, but packs a wallop with its startling reveals and its disturbing motivations. And it’s extremely effective. Not quite as effective as Greta, but more so than The Intruder. Horror fans will have a blast with Ma.
It’s worth mentioning that Octavia Spencer is not the only Oscar winner in Ma. I, Tonya’s Allison Janney also pops in for a few scenes as Sue Ann’s boss, a local veterinarian. It seems as if all of the Hollywood elite want to get their faces into horror movies. And as long as the movies are as good as Ma, everyone should be fine with it.
Although Ma is tense and suspenseful, it’s not particularly scary. Most of the attempted jump scares fail, mainly because of the fact that they aren’t really set up at all. The real horror in Ma lies within the titular character and how unhinged she is. Ma is a psychopath, and her relentless stalking and smothering of the kids is terrifying. The movie also ventures a little into gross out territory, particularly in its shocking third act. The gore is not overly graphic, but it’s unique, and within the context of the movie, it’s pretty freaky. It’s not going to scare anyone to death, but in the right environment, Ma could raise a few goosebumps. It will definitely make the viewer think twice about where they decide to party.