Director: Tate Taylor
Starring: Octavia Spencer, Juliette Lewis, Diana Silves, McKaley Milley, Corey Fogelmanis, Luke Evans. USA. 1h 40m
I’ve always been excited to see a black lead in any movie, and it’s been a long time since we’ve had a lead black female in a psychological horror, so long I can’t actually think back to the last one. Can you? While Ma isn’t about race it is indeed about a woman with some deep psychological issues. This “Friday Night Movie” is just a head above the rest due to it’s difficult primary character, who’s masterfully acted by the Oscar winning Octavia Spencer as Sue Ann, a loner who keeps to herself until she’s approached by some teens looking for an adult to buy them some booze. Originally written for a full white cast, the story was re written by Tate Taylor for Octavia who starred in his previous film The Help (2011).
The film skips by as Sue Ann allows the party loving teens to party in her basement with the pretense of giving them somewhere safe to enjoy themselves, her real motives are much more sinister. Now and again she shows some red flags, threatening kids with apparently empty guns and making them strip in a tense scene, but she always has a sob story and unconvincingly managed to win them back over. It’s evident that Octavia had a blast playing this role, it wouldn’t surprise me if she based the character on someone she knows as it seems so authentic. For the most part she’s barely scraping by, but when she finally lets the rip chord go it’s a gory free fall into a dark horrific fun.
Ma is a totally creepy experience at times in the early acts it seems a little forced and pulpy but overall the suspense levels are pretty high and it’s a cookie for anyone who really likes their psychopaths totally unhinged, one of the blessings is that there’s no real trigger to see the switch click it just happen it just does over time. Eventually the kids are soon running for their lives, especially the lead Maggie (Silvers) and her cool mother played by Juliette Lewis, who I feel would have had Maggie’s role if this was a 90’s movie. As the tables turn Ma becomes a sort of Black Annie Wilks, in fact there is a hommage to Stephen Kings favourite bad lady, when Ma’s home is infiltrated by the plucky youngsters trying to uncover dirt on her and she notices that someone has been in her home because an ornament isn’t facing the right way.. If only that penguin was facing due north huh
While the fun is happening in the now, through a series of flashbacks it’s evidence that something happened to Su Ann in her past that made her into this layered creature presented to us now, and it all happened because of a certain young man who she became besotted with as a teenager, and who conventaly still lives in the same town and played by Welsh stud Luke Evans. For a lot of the film I really think that Octavia and Evans were held back and not really showing their full acting potential but compared to the rest of the cast they are such gems on cinema, especially when given half a chance to really do baluster what could have been a pretty dull thriller.
While Ma isn’t the most power packed horror movie, it’s a great excuse for me not to try to hard next Halloween, I can pretty much go as myself now, so that’s an added bonus. I would have liked a bit more of a social and racial commentary but it does what it’s supposed to do, creep people out and introduce the notion that anyone can be a psycho and they really do look like everyone else. If Taylor has been a bit more daring then this could have been a real hard hitting psycho movie as part of this huge upsurge of black lead horrors, but it’s a starting point for a change in horror cinema bud sadly not much more.
R: Get Out (2017),Us (2019), Split (2016)
L: Black Horror