By: Jessica Goddard
Campy, far-fetched, but generally fun, Tate Taylor’s Ma is a passable thriller made watchable by Octavia Spencer’s casting.
It all begins when teenaged Maggie (Diana Silvers) and her mother Erica (Juliette Lewis) move from California back to Erica’s hometown after a messy divorce. Maggie is nervous about making friends at school, but quickly falls in with a popular clique who are of the opinion there’s nothing to do in their little town but get drunk. One day, while in the process of trying to convince liquor store patrons to buy them booze, they encounter middle-aged veterinary worker Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer), who surprisingly cooperates and gets them their liquor (and even brings back their change!). The teens are grateful, and drive off to enjoy their night, while Sue Ann goes home to search up her new friends on social media. It doesn’t take long for Sue Ann to reach out to the high schoolers and invite them to party in her basement on a regular basis under the guise of safety. Maggie’s friends are cool with it, so Maggie reluctantly takes part, but eventually it becomes clear there’s something off about Sue Ann, who now insists on being called “Ma”. And another thing – no one is allowed upstairs.
Things start getting a little too weird, so the teens try to cut ties with Sue Ann and avoid her. But Sue Ann wasn’t exactly popular in high school, and is determined not to blow it this time with her new friends.
Octavia Spencer is unstoppable as Sue Ann/Ma, capitalizing on an uncanny ability to flip her character’s temperament on a dime. A testament to her ability to bring a role to life, it is surprisingly easy for Spencer to make us sympathize with Sue Ann despite the character’s lunacy.
Other than for a few key moments of gore, Ma is not exceptionally scary (even though it’s rated 14A across most of Canada). But the suspense is present and effective, even if the results are predictable. And there is something fresh about the role that social media plays in establishing Ma’s creepiness. Screenwriter Scotty Landes (Comedy Central’s Workaholics, Showtime’s Who Is America?) could’ve fleshed out the characters’ motivations to pull the story together in a way that feels more cohesive and reined in, but somehow the film’s commitment to wackiness is endearing regardless.
All in all, Ma is entertaining but probably most well-suited for a teenage audience.
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Jessica Goddard: @TheJGod