It only takes a few minutes watching Octavia Spencer as Sue Ann in Ma to know 1) Sue Ann is completely unhinged. 2) Octavia Spencer is the singular force that drives this film.
The plot of Ma is uncomplicated in the way most horror movies are. Maggie (Diana Silvers) and her mom (played by Juliette Lewis) move to her mom’s hometown in Ohio. It’s not long before Maggie makes friends with a group of teenagers at her school. When Maggie and her friends party plans fizzle out, they decide to ask a stranger, Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer), to buy them alcohol. This chance encounter leads to the kids partying in Sue Ann’s basement and giving her the affectionate nickname, Ma. The weekend partying quickly leads to Ma having an unhealthy obsession with Maggie and her friends. Ma’s obsession turns into a fixation, bullying, and much worse.
As the story moves along, there are flashbacks to Ma’s high school days and a traumatic experience that gives insight into the madness of her motives.
Ma is Octavia Spencer’s movie. From the moment Ma shuffles into frame wearing veterinary clothes, Spencer owns the film and is given space to be a crazed calculated psychopath for 90 minutes. Spencer’s signature smile that made her so endearing as Dorothy in Hidden Figures or Minny in The Help is what draws people to her character. Once their caught in Ma’s web, there’s a viciousness Spencer is able to convey that makes Ma a threat to everyone that comes in contact with her.
The cast of young actors, lead by Silvers, are given some personality and a few moments to shine. Corey Fogeimanis is gets the most screen time as Andy, Maggie’s love interest. Ultimately, the kids and other supporting cast are targets for Ma’s wrath. They’re no different than kids living on Elm St. or people swimming on Amity Island during the summer of ’75.
What saves Ma from being a stale horror film is its terrifying concept and how funny/unintentionally funny some of the scenes are. When Ma is stalking the kids, there’s a few hilariously cringe-worthy moments. The ways Ma exacts vengeance on people feels like something out of a dark comedy and not a horror film. There’s something Ma does to one kid during the third act that’s laugh-out-loud funny when it should be creepy.
Ma could be more interesting if the audience had time to care about the people she targeted. Instead, the film focuses on Ma, her tragic story, and the beserker barrage that happens during the final 20 minutes. The film attempts to touch on serious issues like bullying and trauma but there isn’t enough to make any of it stick.
For a film that’s classified as horror, Ma is a thriller with horror elements and a hardcore horror ending. Despite the film feeling uneven, Spencer delivers a memorable performance and reminds everyone she needs more opportunities to star in a leading role. Ma is a decent film with a good concept. The amazing performance from Spencer elevates the story and covers up most of the film’s missteps.