Main cast: Octavia Spencer (Sue Ann “Ma” Ellington), Diana Silvers (Maggie Thompson), Juliette Lewis (Erica Thompson), Luke Evans (Ben Hawkins), Corey Fogelmanis (Andy Hawkins), McKaley Miller (Haley), Gianni Paolo (Chaz), Dante Brown (Darrell), Missi Pyle (Mercedes), Tanyell Waivers (Genie Ellington), Dominic Burgess (Stu), and Allison Janney (Dr Brooks)
Director: Tate Taylor
Ma is marketed as a horror flick, but there is nothing supernatural about this one. It’s basically a variation of the Single White Female premise, only with Octavia Spencer as the deranged female in question I suppose this movie is more accurately called Divorced Black Female. I’ll go with this being a horror film, but if you ask me, I personally feel that it’s more of a thriller than anything else.
Maggie Thompson recently moved back to her mother Erica’s hometown after Erica’s husband left the two. She soon makes friends with fun-loving idiots Haley, Andy, Chaz, and Darrell, and soon she is coming home late smelling of weed, much to Erica’s consternation. These kids’ efforts to party, party, party are surprisingly supported by Sue Ann Ellington, or Ma, who agree one day to help them buy alcohol. She soon invites them to party at her basement, and everyone thinks Ma is one cool lady.
Thing is, Ma is mentally unstable – she has serious issues with rejection. This is thanks to a cruel prank played by Ben, the father of Andy, and his friends which included Erica and Ben’s current girlfriend Mercedes. Ma becomes increasingly clingy, and the kids soon view her as the aunt who tries too hard to be cool and hang out with them. However, Ma doesn’t take too well at being rejected by the kids of the very people who hurt her badly. She might be a kid back then, but now, she has access to knives, syringes, and more…
Ma is an odd movie in that, for a long time, I thought it would be going somewhere different, good. Octavia Spencer pulls off a role worthy of the accolades they gave Kathy Bates for her role in Misery. Ma is both a very sympathetic and repulsive character: there is no doubt that she didn’t deserve the way she was treated when she was younger as well as the way the people around her still treat her, but at the same time, she is also a violent, unhinged creature who abuses her own daughter Genie unmercifully. That character is easily the best thing about the film, and Octavia Spencer is the MVP here.
Sure, Luke Evans cements his willingness of being typecast as effectively smarmy and sleazy yet oddly sexy men, but Ben would have been a more memorable character if he had been given more to do here. Instead, the bulk of the screen time belongs to the young kids, aside from Ma, and this is where the film careens off the tracks. With the exception of Genie, these kids are all unlikable and unsympathetic. Sure, they don’t deserve having to eat Ma’s violence burgers, but something is off when I actually end up rooting for Ma to slaughter these vapid, annoying, shallow, self-absorbed, whiny, entitled, horrible cretins. Even Erica is hideously unlikable, as she still treats Ma like crap as an adult. Both mother and daughter are irritating, and I won’t shed a tear should they both expire in a ball of flame.
Alas, this movie is a bit too timid to be anything more than a standard crazy-woman-coming-to-kill-you affair. Ma may get a more sympathetic back story than most crazy female stalker types, but the late third or so of the movie swifts gears from a slow-moving psychological thriller to a campy, clownish act as our villain starts plotting elaborate stunts that will make Wil E Coyote sigh in rapture. The shift from dark drama to campy action can be jarring and even abrupt, and I’m still not sure what to make of it. I just know that I don’t like it, and I wish a memorable character like Ma had been given a more dignified send-off.
Anyway, Ma could have been something great, but it settles on being another filler Blumhouse film. Sure, this one also has Octavia Spencer, but she ends up being way too good for this film.