"Ma" Review: A Reminder of Why You Don't Hang With Strangers
There’s a reason your parents teach you not to talk to strangers at a young age. You never know what a person does or who they are when they’re by themselves; even if they’re your friend. Ma is just a friendly reminder to teens who may think they know more than their parents, “you don’t know that lady! Why would you go into her basement?”
Maggie (Diana Silvers fresh off of Booksmart) and her mother Erica (Juliette Lewis) have just moved back to Erica’s hometown in middle-of-no-where America. Maggie quickly finds new friends in Haley (McKaley Miller), Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), Chaz (Gianni Paolo), and Darrell (Dante Brown). Being in a small town means there’s not a lot to do event wise, so drinking at the rock pile is a good time. Of course, being a teen means that there’s a small hurdle to getting alcohol. So when Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) walks by and agrees to purchase booze for them, it makes sense to keep going back to their supplier.
Sue Ann gets closer with the teens and even let’s them call her Ma. She opens up her basement as a safe place to drink with their friends. She only has a few rules: don’t use the Lord’s name in vain, she has to check to make sure the driver is ok to drive before they leave, and don’t go upstairs! Initially blinded by the opportunity, the scales covering their eyes to seeing Ma’s strange and sinister nature slowly start to fall off as Ma starts showing up at school, texting them relentlessly and more.
The key to Ma is that the first two acts of the film are dominated by suspense in tension. We know something the main characters don’t know. Yes, in part it’s that you shouldn’t trust strangers or put all your business out on social media for someone like Ma to find, but it’s also Ma’s ties to their parents. After a traumatic incident of bullying and sexual abuse, Sue Ann has been harboring anger ever since.
There’s no doubt that Ma could have explored a variety of things in more detail. There’s an element of the dangers of social media, bullying, and the fact that Sue Ann seems to be the only black woman in her small town (which actually leaves room for a funny joke with Darrell). Yet, seeing an Oscar caliber actress like Octavia Spencer take on a genre film is what helps this movie. Spencer’s choices and presence creates a tangible character that feels like a family member instead of the creepy person next door. They could have let her loose a bit more in her role, but it seems as though she chose to have fun with the character over making her more sinister which works.
The film teams Spencer up with director Tate Taylor (The Help) again. There’s an element of the film that feels like Taylor watched Get Out hundreds of times before stepping on set with his camera work. The close-ups, dutch angle shots, and cuts in the editing are vaguely familiar and make things comical at times rather than scary. However, it somewhat lends itself to writer Scotty Landes’ writing style.
Ma is a fun ride if you know the type of vehicle you’re getting into. It could have been souped up a bit more, but it’s an entertaining thriller that opens the door for desire to see more Oscar caliber actors in rolls outside of their genre wheelhouse. Perhaps parents should check out the film with their teens just to say “that’s what happens when you give in to peer pressure and hang with strangers.” And while you should drink responsibly at the appropriate age, “don’t make me drink alooooone!” might be one of the funniest lines to sing and demand of your friends this year!