There’s no prerequisite suggesting that a film must have something to say for it to be good. There are plenty of brilliant movies with the density of styrofoam. The realm of the genre flick, however – pioneered by the likes of Jordan Peele and David Robert Mitchell – has become popular for Hollywood auteurs who want to make a statement. Tate Taylor tries to use psychological horror as a prism for discourse in his third feature, Ma, glancing over all of the popular politics, from gender, to race, to class. However, Taylor’s ideas are almost entirely surface-level, betrayed by a lack of any original thought.
The crux of the film’s failure lies within the fact that Taylor expects us to sympathise, at least to a slight degree, with the anti-hero-cum-antagonist “Ma”, aka Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer). A middle-aged, lonely, often bullied woman, she befriends a group of 16 year-olds (led by Diana Silvers’ Maggie, little more than a post-millenial take on the final girl trope) who’re looking for a place to drink without fear of arrest. They quickly become close friends – eerie enough. Friendship, however, becomes obsession for Sue Ann. Taylor tries to frame this as a yearning for the childhood she lost to traumatic bullying, depicted through oddly placed flashbacks, but you simply can’t identify with a character who objectifies, sexually assaults, and tortures young teenagers.
If there’s anything entertaining about Ma it stems from Octavia Spencer’s role commitment, manifesting through her deranged micro-expressions and creepy line deliveries. But an actor’s commitment can only carry a film so far.
For the most part, Spencer’s effort is undermined by Ma‘s wildly inconsistent tone, one-dimensional character writing, and a terribly paced finale of cringeworthy body horror, a sequence which feels like an entirely different film in itself. Sorry, Ma – you’ll have to drink alone.
CAST: Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis, Allison Janey, McKaley Miller, Corey Fogelmanis
DIRECTOR: Tate Taylor
WRITER: Scotty Landes
SYNOPSIS: A lonely woman befriends a group of teenagers and decides to let them party at her house. Just when the kids think their luck couldn’t get any better, things start happening that make them question the intention of their host.