Directed by Tate Taylor.
Starring Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis, McKaley Miller, Allison Janney, Corey Fogelmanis, Tanyell Waivers, Heather Marie Pate, Gianni Paolo, Dante Brown, Dominic Burgess, Luke Evans, Victor Turpin, Kyanna Simone Simpson, Margaret Fegan, Andrew Matthew Welch, Skyler Joy, Nicole Carpenter, Missi Pyle, and Tate Taylor.
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.
Working to its advantage, there is more to Ma than letting Octavia Spencer loose with the craziness, something the supremely underrated and overlooked talented actor could make a feature-length movie successful on alone. Outside of the scenery chewing role, it’s easy to see what gravitated her towards saying yes to director Tate Taylor; previously he has cast her in an Oscar-winning role (The Help), while the script from Scotty Landes managers to find some humanity in a deeply disturbing cocktail of taboo scenarios. One moment you might be pumping your fist in the air for Ma’s justice, but not before putting it right back down witnessing an atrocity cementing that, even if it’s for a sympathetic reason, she is whacked out of her mind in desperate need of psychological therapy/jail time.
Exactly how someone manipulating believably idiotic teenagers (an especially important detail to making the narrative work is that their stupid actions make sense considering their maturity and mindset and outlook on life in relation to the nothingness to do in their backwoods town) to consume alcohol in their basement transforms into crafty revenge would be intriguing had the trailer not spoiled damn near everything in the movie (thankfully, there are a few surprises including a tragic ending shockingly capable of making audiences feel conflicted emotions). Unfortunately, Ma stalls; I’m convinced the movie would be just as predictable without unnecessary trailer details considering the story blueprint is shaky getting us from point A to point B.
Again, it has a solid group of characters to carry it all (the teenagers themselves don’t feel like caricatures, behaving how you would expect a group of partiers to behave, only occasionally doing something really dumb), and Octavia Spencer is game enough to elevate the trashy material into something dramatic (in addition to being violently horrifying) when the script finally reveals all its cards. She is obsessed with social media (spending more time on her phone doxxing the teenagers instead of caring for the animals that come to see the veterinarian, has experienced unsettling trauma that could realistically scar someone for life, and blends her trademark sassy backtalking with a more sinister tone. She doesn’t have a single fear stepping out of her comfort zone, leaving viewers with something memorable. Not necessarily Oscar-worthy, but an outstanding horror performance nonetheless.
Honestly, I am going to cut this review short factoring in that Ma is a movie you should know nothing about going into it, and on the basis that I’ve already probably said too much. The pacing definitely needs to be fixed (the middle portion is just a series of chess maneuvers setting up the explosive finale that delivers on everything anyone could possibly want from this unhinged thriller, including one of the single most ferociously badass kills seen in a horror movie lately, immediately accompanied by a thunderously delivered one-liner destined to become a viral meme), but the moral compass of Ma is too unnervingly fascinating for those flaws to seriously damage the movie.
Just remember to turn your brain halfway off; of course, it’s completely ludicrous but done so in a magnetically entertaining fashion. Octavia Spencer is creepily down to party with teenagers and pulls off the daunting challenge of seemingly fitting in with the pack (the basement parties become more jammed and rowdier as word spreads), but there are pain and deep-seated baggage behind her actions. It doesn’t justify them, but the movie accomplishes the challenging feat of intentionally coming damn close, sparking one hell of a discussion relevant to our times. Call it trashy, dumb, insensitive, and whatever else you want, but there’s no denying it’s bold, ruthless, and genuinely has more on its mind than terrorizing teenagers even if it all doesn’t quite come together.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com