If you’d rather avoid Dark Phoenix and MIB: International but aren’t in the mood for Toy Story 4, there are alternatives. Ma is still in theaters and doing fairly well relative to its budget — it managed so far to rake in over $36 million against a small $5 million budget. And that box-office performance should tell you it has something to offer.
Maggie Thompson (Diana Silvers) moves with her mom Erica (Juliette Lewis) to the latter’s Middle American hometown, where no one seems to leave or make much of themselves. Starting over, Maggie is the new girl at school but makes a small group of friends on her first day. Bailing on a music festival one weekend, they drive around trying to buy alcohol and encounter Sue Ann Ellington (Octavia Spencer) who procures them some booze.
Afterward, Sue Ann takes steps to rain on the group’s fun by anonymously cyberstalking them and calling one of their parents (Luke Evans). This leads to her, who is above suspicion to the teens initially, opening her basement to them and soon the entire high school for house parties, and being dubbed “Ma.” But — surprise, surprise — something’s not quite right about Sue Ann and her secrets and unhinged personality are laid bare.
More Than Advertised
Ma’s trailer leads you to believe it is one thing — a stalk-and-slash scenario — when it is something more: an exploration into a fragile human psyche.
Sue Ann is a vindictive woman with a past concerning the town’s residents, who all play a part in her big secret. The reasons for her nature get explored and you understand her journey as an agonized fight for acceptance. The film builds to a reveal at the right pace with a digestible number of flashbacks, and is more Fatal Attraction or Play Misty For Me in its psychological thrills than Halloween or Friday the 13th, though it pulls off a few jump scares and cringe moments.
There’s also a Munchausen syndrome by proxy subplot, ripped right from the headlines, that adds some realism, undone only by a bonkers climax.
Spencer elevates the material. Without her gusto, the end product would suffer and Sue Ann would be a one-note sociopath.
She’d also lack sympathy. Spencer captures moments of genuine sorrow as a rejected social outcast in between Sue Ann’s calculated madness and snapping at the drop of a dime. She makes you feel for this character and question her de facto status as the villain. Ma is very much a victim who never learned to cope with her humiliation at the hands of townsfolk who have their own dark negatives to own up to.
A decent time killer, Ma doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but it will grab your interest and elicit reactions through its jump moments and suspense building. Octavia Spencer does well enough in the lead and makes you care.
- Octavia Spencer.
- Adult cast, especially Juliette Lewis.
- Rushed, convoluted climax.
- Teens play right into Ma's hands even when they know she's dangerous.
- Sue Ann is turned into a superhuman slasher villain at the end for no reason.