You know when the key star of a movie just elevates the entire thing? It happens a lot when you think about it. You only have to look back to my 213th entry of this year (What Lies Beneath) to realise that. And what would The Iron Lady be without Meryl Streep? What is Suicide Squad without Margot Robbie? See what I mean? Ma is yet another example of that trend.
This teen horror/thriller/slasher hybrid follows Octavia Spencer as the quite obviously disturbed Sue Ann, but you can call her ‘Ma’. When a group of underage teens ask a seemingly harmless stranger to buy booze for them, she does so after some persuasion. Things a strange yet – again – seemingly harmless turn when Ma proposes that they party in her basement instead of on the streets and in possible danger. Everything seems off immediately however, as Ma slowly creeps her way into the parties and becomes precariously obsessed with the youngsters.
Man, I hate it when the critics are right. I’m giving this movie 2 Qs for the cast ONLY.
Genuinely, I try my best to not rate films with a single Q because I truly try to find the best in every movie I come across. I also know what a gargantuan effort it is to get any movie produced, so I find it difficult to criticise something so strongly that I belittle the people behind the scenes who tried their God’s honest best to put a film together. In short, I’m the worst critic in the world. Sadly, it’s difficult to find a hell of a lot of positives within this one.
There’s one thing I’ll give Ma: there’s no fucking around to get things started. The movie begins with some character background and some quick scene-setting, and then it flies in full steam ahead with an unhinged Octavia Spencer. And while we’re here, there is another positive about Ma that I already mentioned in the introduction: Octavia Spencer being as excellent as she always is.
No, no, no. Wait. I’m doing the supporting cast an injustice by not mentioning them. Although some of the younger members of the cast don’t exactly scream Oscar-worthy, (barring Diana Silvers who is actually quite good here) Allison Janney(!!!) and Juliette Lewis sparkle in the minor roles they have. It’s just a shame that they got next to nothing to do because they would have further elevated this movie to greater heights with their presence alone. Wasting talent is unforgivable. Especially when it’s Allison Janney’s talent.
Now here comes the red flag. Is it just me, or does this whole thing come off as overtly racist? Ma – pretty much the only African American main character – was bullied and tortured by a bunch of white kids in high school, so of course she’s now a crazed serial killer? I’m sure that this was not the intention of neither the director* nor the writer, but that’s how it reads. Indeed, it’s nice to see Spencer doing something completely out of her comfort zone, but the message it sends is really… uncomfortable to think about.
*More sinisterly, my girlfriend pointed out to me that Tate Taylor also directed The Help, which doesn’t have a great reputation in this respect either… So do with that what you will, I guess.
Hypothesising aside, what I’m certain of is that you’re not supposed to sympathise with the titular character at all. However, for the aforementioned reasons I am completely Team Ma, even though it’s definitely a little uncouth to feel that way. Every character in this movie was an asshole.
So not only does Ma fail in its questionable plot choices, but it does the complete opposite of what it’s supposed to.
Ma is available to stream (for another 10 days) on Netflix in the UK.
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