By Tammy Ruggles
Ma, a Blumhouse Production directed by Tate Taylor, is the character-driven horror movie you’ve been waiting for. Partial spoilers lie ahead, so proceed with caution.
At first blush Ma may seem like the typical teen-slaughter movie, but this one will take you by surprise by its compelling plot and good acting, especially by Octavia Spencer, who plays Sue Ann, also known as Ma. Even the plot is deceptive. You have a group of teenagers going to a party together. What could happen there? Anyone who’s watched the average slice-and-dice horror fare will know the answer to that. But you would be mistaken if you think this is just another one of “those” horror movies. Sue Ann is a sympathetic character – a vet tech who was bullied in school. But she isn’t without flaws. She buys alcohol for underage kids, and hosts parties for them at her house. You want to live inside her personality and figure her out because she’s charming in a way, and this is where Spencer’s charisma as an actor glows. This movie is a good example of a horror movie hitting all the buttons. A solid script, unpredictable directing, multi-dimensional acting, and a story that lures you in one scene at a time. If you like your horror to build, you’ll love this film. You get the feeling something is going to happen, but you aren’t sure what, and the growing dread you feel finally pays off in a big way. Some of the scenes are not what you’d call jump scares, but genuinely startling, and honestly earned.
For horror fans looking for something that doesn’t insult the genre, you really have to give Ma a chance, and applause for succeeding on a smaller budget. Have you ever been anticipating a horror movie that sounds promising, but then find yourself incredibly disappointed? I know I have. But this one delivers; so much so that you may find yourself watching it more than once. There are subplots here that add to the layers, and backstory. No, I wouldn’t call this Oscar-worthy, but watch-worthy for sure. Odds are that you know people like Ma, and the young characters. In a strange way, you can relate to these characters and situations, even though it’s a horror movie. Juliette Lewis plays a supporting role, and it makes you wish you could see her more often in newer projects. Don’t you miss her Natural Born Killer days? And then Allison Janney is featured too.
For critics who think this movie needs more horror or shock, I disagree. I think there is just enough, and the good parts come when you least expect it, and in ways you don’t anticipate I wouldn’t call this a predictable movie, but for a horror piece, quite engaging. If you want to dig a little deeper, you can find social messages imbedded here, around bullying, psychological scars, and probable Munchausen’s by Proxy, but they aren’t so obviously obvious. They are subtly woven through the fabric of the plot. You don’t feel as though someone is holding up a protest sign – it’s more understated than that, and just as effective. Spencer plays her part so well that you feel like you could know the Sue Ann character in real life. Though there are some exaggerated moments bordering on the absurdly obscene (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre kind) mostly toward the end, it’s still a better horror film than some you’ve seen the last few years. It rests in that place where you know it’s far from a masterpiece, but still entertaining, and will definitely spark some interesting film conversations. Some critics say Ma isn’t really a horror movie, but I think it is. To me, true horror lies in the things that can happen in real life. Even if you don’t like this movie, it’s almost certain you’ll become an instant fan of Octavia Spencer.