From the moment the film was announced and the trailer was released, Blumhouse’s Ma was something of a question mark for many people. Being one of them myself, I wondered just how the characterization (specifically of ‘Ma’) was going to play out on the big screen. Due to this, I went into the film with reservations. Unfortunately, those reservations stuck with me for the majority of the film.
What begins as a story of a teenage girl named Maggie (Diana Silvers) moving back to the small town her mother (Juliette Lewis) grew up in after her parents’ divorce, turns into something much more sinister. After Maggie is befriended by the high school’s resident clique of cool kids comprised of Haley (McKaley Miller), Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), Darrell (Dante Brown) and Chaz (Gianni Paolo), the crew goes looking for some fun after a cancelled party. Unsure of what to do, the group hangs out around the local liquor store, trying to get one of the many adults passing by to get them some booze.
While everyone gives the teens a definitive ‘no’, Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer), is walking one of the dog’s from the vet when she is approached by Maggie. Realizing that the girl is a new face in town and trying to fit in, Sue Ann decides to get the drinks for the underaged friends – as long as they promise not to drink and drive. Hearing about them going to the rock pile, Sue Ann wistfully tells them that she used to go there too back in the day. However, once the kids are gone on their way and Sue Ann is back at work, she calls Andy’s father, Ben (Luke Evans) anonymously, letting him know that his son is spending time drinking at the rock pile. After getting caught, this prompts the friends to spend their next time underage drinking at Sue Ann’s basement after she gets more alcohol for them.
This serves as a major turning point in the film. After spending the night at Sue Ann’s and hosting a birthday party in her basement for one of the other high school kids, the vet tech begins to assume that a friendship between herself and the teens is blossoming. However, when two of them break one of the house rules, Sue Ann, or ‘Ma’ as the kids now call her, frightens them. While Sue Ann bombards them with endless texts, calls and video messages, the kids try to find ways to avoid hanging out at her place again – whether that be sports, homework, or just being too tired. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with Ma and things spiral out of control from there.
*Please note: minor spoilers below
The audience is allowed glimpses into Sue Ann’s past and it is in these moments that the watchers will really see why Sue Ann’s past has had such a huge impact on her life now, as an adult. That being said, one cannot ignore some of the problematic points that come from this. Of course, not wanting to spoil anything for those who plan on watching the film this weekend (and in the weeks to come), but there is a racial and sexual harassment plot within the storyline that didn’t sit well with me. Too often we see women of color, specifically Black women as the victims to this kind of violence. In all honesty, I think the revenge aspect of the storyline and ultimately why Sue Ann sought out these teens, could have been handled differently (but maybe that’s just me).
Now, this might sound a bit formulaic to some other films set in a thriller/horror genre, but the movie does a good job at attempting to change it up. However, where it falls short is that it’s almost two stories in one and it should have stuck to one plot line. The film could have been a good revenge thriller, had that been the main focus. If the movie simply stuck to its guns and was more a sins of the father/sins of the mother tale, it would have worked better. But with the some of the other storylines that were weaved through, it felt a bit bogged down – and at times, a bit long.
However, the above being said does not take away from Spencer’s performance. The Academy Award winner is obviously no stranger to giving her all in her various film and television roles, and Ma is no exception. The way that Spencer allows her character to go from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds is nothing short of astonishing. Within each frame, you’re unsure of which version of Ma you might get and this is where the true terror of the film lies. No matter what Sue Ann is doing and regardless of which version of the character you’re about to see, it was hard to look away. Spencer does a great job at making you feel for the character, and at certain points in the film, you’re on her side – despite her behaviour. This aspect (in my opinion) is definitely a job well done.
It’s likely that Ma isn’t going to be for everybody. However, it’s worth seeing for Spencer’s performance as Sue Ann. While more of a thriller than a horror, Ma does deliver a few genuine jump-scares and also provides some genuine laughs.
Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help), Ma is in theaters now.