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Movie Review: Ma

Get home safe with Ma. Image used from slashfilm.com

Octavia Spencer has had a very interesting career. After winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2012, she has gone on to star in many high profile films such as Snowpiercer, Hidden Figures, Zootopia and The Shape of Water. But before she was such a high profile actress, Octavia Spencer mostly worked smaller roles in films most notably in horror. She had small, even barely noticeable roles in Pulse, Drag Me To Hell and Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, the latter being only a decade ago. Things have changed so quickly for the talented actress. Now Spencer returns to the horror genre this time as the main star and villain in the titular Ma. Will her foray into horror villain be successful, or should Spencer have stayed away?

The story for Ma is like the character’s false nature: it only wants to play it safe. The story follows Maggie a teenager who has moved with her mother back to her old home town. She quickly makes friends and in an attempt to get alcohol befriend a woman named Sue Ann who is incredibly generous and kind to them, so much so that she offers to open up her basement as a place for them to drink and party. Soon Sue Ann’s home becomes to local hang out for all the high school students and she earns the nickname Ma. However after a few disturbing events the kids begin to move further away from Sue Ann which ends up making her more and more dangerous. On the surface Ma comes off as a simple stalker film and unfortunately for the film and us it mostly is. Things start off rather slow with the kids and Sue Ann getting to know each other more and more, it honestly begins more like a drama then a horror film. But once it becomes clear that something is wrong with Sue Ann things begin begins to steadily spiral into a horror film. Honestly the pacing is quite good allowing us time to get to know the characters and establish the relationship with Sue Ann and the others. Be that as it may once the film finally forms into a horror film things become rather generic and even predictable. Sure it’s still a well made horror film with some decently tense moments and the third act itself is very exciting and makes for a very good, grand finale but it really does feel like “been there, done that” and in a time when horror films are better, smarter and more creative then they’ve been in years and especially coming from the auteurs at Blumhouse I expected so much more. The story does have potential and even lightly touches on some interesting ideas. Unfortunately it doesn’t try to go for that potential, those “lightly touched ideas” come far too late.

The characters for Ma are mostly forgettable

Sue Ann is a very good horror villain. Her initial kind and generous demeanor does a good job of masking her true self and even threw myself off guard for a moment. Despite her height and age she still manages to be an incredibly intimidating and imposing character in her moments of rage and in her quieter moments such as her manipulating the kids are rather unsettling. But Sue Ann is far more then a villain meant to be feared, in fact Sue An is one of the most sympathetic villains I’ve seen in a very long time. Throughout the film there are flashbacks of Sue Ann as a teenager and what sent her on the path to becoming who she is. While I feel they could have gone further and more grim with these flashbacks they still do an excellent job of framing the character. It isn’t long before you learn why she clings to these kids, why she has violent out bursts and before you know it you actually find yourself rooting for her from time to time. The only flaw in her character is that the writers wanted to make Sue Ann a victim of racism, seeing that she’s lived her life in a predominately white, Podunk town but it only comes into play in the last ten minutes and as such doesn’t work which is a shame because it only would have made the sad, tragic story of Sue Ann even stronger and herself even more of a likable character. That being said I would honestly love to see Sue Ann in another film. If the likes of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and The Stepfather could find ways to come back surely Sue Ann as an idea or two up her sleeve.

Maggie is an OK character. She’s more a typical horror movie hero: selfless, noble, wants to help everyone, etc, etc. She isn’t bad but she is bland, I honestly had to wrack my brains to think of anything to talk about her character but I keep coming up with nothing.

The remaining cast of characters aren’t even worth mentioning. They exist to take up space and that’s about it. Heck, calling them paper thin would actually be giving them too much depth. There were far too many moments where I forgot most of these characters even existed and time and time again the shock of seeing a character who I forgot all about was more alarming then the film’s jump scares. It’s clear all the attention was given to the character of Sue Ann, as it should, but without memorable or likable characters to support the film really just comes off more as a one woman show.

Acting for Ma is carried solely by one person

Octavia Spencer gives an excellent performance as Sue Ann. From the simple start Spencer is captivating and as the film goes on she gets better and better. Spencer makes for a frightening villain and is effective whenever she is driven to anger and violence. But the moments where we’re meant to sympathize with Sue Ann are even better. Not only are these moments moving but she creates such empathy for her character that the idea that she’s on the brink of a violent rampage is non-existent. She even manages to have quite a few darkly humorous moments that honestly had me chuckling. It truly is one of her most entertaining performances and I am so happy she not only made a return to horror but stepped out of her comfort zone to play the villain. Even with all of Ma’s flaws, and there are many, Spencer’s performance alone was more then worth the price of admission.

Diana Silvers’ career has only just begun but already she’s hit the ground running. A little over a week ago she had a small, but still very memorable, role in the excellent Booksmart and is now one of the leads in a major horror film. Sadly Silvers’ performance in Ma isn’t as good as her last role but even so she still does a decent job. I can’t even lay anything at her feet as she isn’t given strong material to work with as the film is a vehicle for Spencer. Granted Spencer is the reason why the film works but giving her co-stars better material could have made the film better. That said it still ins’t a bad performance and I look forward to seeing Silvers in her next project.

Juliette Lewis does a fine job as Maggie’s mother Erica. Lewis comes as simply being there for most of the film, of course her character does have to run off to work and training seminars for the first two acts. By the third act she finally has more to work with and as such gives a solid, albeit brief, performance.

Luke Evans plays the father of one of the kids as well as the main source of Sue Ann’s rage and misery. Like Lewis, Evans’ performance is brief but is still well done and memorable. Though I must admit he could be distracting as his moments caused my mind to drift to other films where he played a villain though these only lasted for a minute or two.

The rest of the supporting cast is completely forgettable. Silvers, Lewis and Evans all lucked out because of they had little to work with then these kids had nothing at all. They were flat, dull as wood and painfully forgettable but it sin’t their fault. What can they do? They show up, make a group and that’s that.

Final Thoughts: Ma isn’t a great film however it still is pretty good. The story is generic but still has it’s moments such as a truly good third act, Sue Ann is a great villain and Octavia Spencer’s performance was so excellent that she managed to carry the film through it’s weakest moments. Some of the supporting cast do well when they finally have something to work with though the side characters are still bland. Over all the film itself is no classic but Spencer is still incredibly entertaining and Sue Ann definitely deserves to becoming a recurring villain, the two of them are that good!

Verdict: 2.5/5

About the Author

Good day to you, my name is Jonathan Gonzalez. For years I've loved movies and have been reviewing them for years, ever since I first saw Roger Ebert on Ebert and Roeper during my freshman year of high school for the first time. I am a graduate of Mercy College with a Bachelor's in Journalism and I have Asperger's Syndrome, something I am truly proud of.

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