Ma (United States, 2019)May 31, 2019
On the surface, Ma
is seemingly just another entry into the generic horror/thriller category about
a seemingly good-hearted stranger who worms her way into the bosom of a group before
showing her true (psychopathic) tendencies. Although these movies reached their
apex of popularity during the 1980s and early 1990s, they seem to be making a
comeback. There have already been two in 2019 – Greta and The Intruder –
and more are in the pipeline. Although Ma
generally follows the tried-and-true template, director Tate Taylor and
screenwriter Scotty Landes have a slightly
more ambitious agenda in mind (involving a backstory that’s gradually revealed through
flashbacks). They also have Octavia Spencer, whose nuanced performance gives Ma an added dimension.
Many years ago, an acquaintance of mine said “Who needs good
art when you’ve got great trash” and that applies here. Although I would stop
short of calling this a “gem,” it is at times creepily effective, at least
during its first three-fourths. As the film approaches its climax, it loses
some of its uniqueness but there’s plenty to like about it before it starts to
feel overly familiar.
Although Octavia Spencer gets top billing as the title
character, the movie starts out by introducing us to Maggie (Diana Silvers), a
16-year old girl who has relocated along with her mother, Erica (Juliette Lewis),
to the backwater burb where the latter was born and raised. The quiet but
good-natured Maggie is quickly adopted by a group of high school friends – party
girl Haley (McKaley Miller), serious Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), ladies’ magnet Chaz
(Gianni Paolo), and reticent Darrell (Dante Brown) – who invite her to join
them in their favorite activity: driving around in a van and getting drunk. To
achieve this, they need alcohol, which none of them can legally buy. Enter Sue
Ann (Spencer), a middle-aged woman who agrees to purchase everything on their
shopping list. What’s more, she offers an attractive party location: her
disused basement. She only has a couple of ground rules: no using the name of
the Lord in vain and no going upstairs. Both are destined to be broken.
Eventually, Maggie becomes suspicious, daring to look the gift
horse in the mouth. There’s something odd about a forty-ish woman opening her
house to partying teenagers. Sure, she’s lonely and this gives her an
opportunity to reconnect with her youth, but there seems to be something more.
As the movie unfolds, we learn what that is and how it involves Maggie’s mother
and Andy’s father, Ben (Luke Evans). The pieces are easily assembled – this isn’t
an obtuse or complicated jigsaw puzzle – but it adds a little Carrie to what might otherwise be a
purely Psycho-inspired entry.
Octavia Spencer’s reputation for playing helpful, generous
characters feeds into her against-type effectiveness in this role. (She won her
Oscar for her work in director Donovan’s The Help.) She brings a multi-dimensionality rarely seen in horror villains.
Her murderous tendencies are no less profound than those of a Michael Myers or
Jason but she is given a rounded personality and a relatable motive that explains
(but doesn’t excuse) her actions. Spencer’s performance lends Ma a freshness it might otherwise lack.
(One word of warning: the film’s theatrical trailer commits
the cardinal sin of spoiling the ending. This sort of thing isn’t unprecedented
but it’s egregious in this case. If you have any desire to see Ma, I endorse avoiding the theatrical
Ma can be seen as a comfortably recognizable horror story with enough interesting elements to keep it from seeming like a regurgitation of generic tropes and situations. It’s creepy and suspenseful and, although the last act goes on auto-pilot, the film offers a better-than-average experience for those who like their psychopaths unhinged.
Ma (United States, 2019)
Cast: Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis, McKaley Miller, Corey Fogelmanis, Gianni Paolo, Dante Brown, Luke Evans
Screenplay: Scotty Landes
Cinematography: Christina Voros
Music: Gregory Tripi
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
- Booksmart (2019)
- (There are no more better movies of Diana Silvers)
- (There are no more worst movies of Diana Silvers)