Most horror films don’t always rely on star power with Ma being a rare exception. With the involvement of names like Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer, Luke Evans, Juliette Lewis, and Missi Pyle, it seems like a possible indication of the film’s quality. The trailer makes it appear to be a standard stalker thriller but with actors like the ones above, could it something more? Well, sort of. Although Ma nearly succumbs to being a quasi-B-movie, there are moments of brilliance to be found.
The picture’s greatest source of brilliance is easily Octavia Spencer as the title character. It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that Spencer gave a good performance. However, she still is incredibly three-dimensional and takes the material far more seriously than needed. Her character Sue-Ann, also called “Ma,” is established as a very lonely person and part of the reason she lets the main group of teenagers party in her basement is to feel like she belongs somewhere. Spencer manages to illustrate Ma’s searing vulnerability while not making her fully redemptive. Early on, she drops hints at Ma’s psychopathic nature, like when she forces a male teenager to take his clothes off, before unveiling it completely.
As for the actors playing the teenagers, they do a capable job in their respective roles. Diana Silvers, who can be seen in Booksmart, is a particular standout as Maggie, the main protagonist. Her role may be archetypal but she still plays it quite well. In addition, her and Corey Fogelmanis, who plays Maggie’s love interest Andy, have very likeable chemistry.
That being said, the teenage characters being underwritten serves as a detriment. While Ma may be Octavia Spencer’s show, it still would’ve been nice if the teenagers had been given more dimensions and weren’t just typical clueless victims. As for where the screenplay shines, it’s when we get flashbacks of Ma when she was in high school. The flashbacks are used rather sporadically yet because they show Ma being mercilessly teased, they demonstrate how bullying and trauma sometimes turn people into the monsters they loathe. Besides Spencer’s performance, the backstory of Ma is another area of brilliance even if it isn’t explored deep enough.
As a result of its staunch yet muddled writing, Ma ends up being a serviceable camp thriller with a tremendous Octavia Spencer performance. If you’re in the mood for something thrilly, Ma is a doable option. There are some better film watching options but there are far worse ones as well. If you know what kind of film you’re getting into, by all means, attend Ma’s party. Just be sure not to go alone.