CERT: 15 | DIRECTOR: TATE TAYLOR | SCREENPLAY: TATE TAYLOR, SCOTTY LANDES | STARRING: OCTAVIA SPENCER, JULIETTE LEWIS, DIANA SILVERS, LUKE EVANS, MCKALEY MILLER, MISSI PYLE, COREY FOGELMANIS, MARJAY ROSS, GIANNI PAOLO, AND DANTE BROWN | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Ma stars Spencer as the titular character; a seemingly lonely middle-aged woman who befriends some high school teenagers after they ask her to buy them alcohol. Worried about them possibly drink-driving or getting into trouble, she lets them use her basement to drink in. They have to follow rules, however: they can’t ‘take the Lord’s name in vain’, the driver has to remain sober and they cannot go upstairs. As the partying begins, new teen in town Maggie (Silvers) notices something isn’t quite right…
At first you expect a house of horrors kind of film, and it very nearly begins like that. Instead, Ma reveals itself to be more of an obsessive, psychological thriller with a twist. What unravels is a film with elements of Carrie and Misery mixed with a John Hughes nightmare. Music often makes a horror film and you’re treated to an incredible ‘80s-style score in a similar vein to Stranger Things and It Follows. Unfortunately, the film often comes across as unintentionally funny more than scary, despite a great performance from Spencer. As Ma, she claims a worthy place in the canon of horror movie psychos, one with a modern spin who incorporates social media into her antagonism.
The movie’s main twist is painfully obvious, as is the sub-plot regarding what’s upstairs in Ma’s house. There are unexplored avenues; themes of race and sex are touched on but then passed over. The older supporting actors (Lewis, Evans, Janney, Pyle) are somewhat wasted. You find out a little bit about their characters and their relationship with Ma, but not quite enough to build up more of an emotional investment.
Perhaps a more cliché’d house of horrors film may have been better, although the character of Ma is memorable and refreshing.