A mouldy steak is still a mouldy steak even if Octavia Spencer serves it to you; eating the steak is exactly what it feels like to sit through Ma. Tate Turner’s horror movie, Ma, opened Friday and stars Octavia Spencer as Sue Ann, a lonely veterinary assistant who befriends a group of teenagers by buying them alcohol. Being the great parent she is, Ma decides to turn her dusty basement into a bustling bar for high schoolers to prevent drinking and driving. Ma’s, as the underaged party palace is dubbed, is the go-to spot for underage drinking until things turn sinister. The sweet, soft-spoken Sue Ann turns into a hysterically horrendous social media stalker — the kind Dateline warns about.
Over half the film is expositional build up, attempting to draw the audience in and make them concerned for the lives of the teens involved. Unfortunately, the cast of 20-year-old brats induces more eye-rolls than compassion, as none of the characters are likeable. Maggie Thompson (Diana Silver) is supposed to be the new girl in school and is quickly adopted into the ‘popular group,’ which is similar to Sue Ann’s experience in school but excludes all the adverse outcomes. Aside from the one similarity, the teens prove no more than pawns as the film goes on.
The main story is hidden under the superficial teenage drama delivered to the audience in a series of flashbacks. Without giving too much away, Ma had a rough time in high school, and she was bullied by the “cool kids” — who just happen to be the parents of the main crew. She tries to enact her revenge and, for once, the audience is almost on the side of the villain.
Aside from the plot, the dialogue exchanged between the teens is cringy. It’s evident that the screenplay was written by old men who have no idea how teenagers communicate with lines like, “That old chick wants to sit on your face, dude.” The last time a teenager said “chick” or “dude” in a sentence was probably before the invention of the iPhone. The script seems to replicate that of a “trash” horror flick like Scream. Too bad Schotty Landes’ and Tate Taylor’s intentions were to shock rather than intelligently execute a “trash” movie. That being said, the shock factor was there, and the Blumhouse budget was even stretched to include prosthetic genitals.
Spencer makes a great villain as her acting can turn a sweet lady sour. Taylor said in interviews that he didn’t want this movie to be race-based, but it’s challenging to remove race when this is the first time many moviegoers are seeing a black, female lead in a horror movie. Taylor may have been smart in his decision to shift his focus away from skin colour to enhance the plot, but he may have missed an opportunity to dig into racial humiliation. Sue Ann was one of — if not — the only black kid(s) at school, which could’ve been the reason for the target on her back. It’s hard to believe she was bullied for only being sweet and easily manipulated. All she wanted were friends and all they wanted was someone to torment. Seems unrealistic. Apparently, Sue Ann was supposed to be cast as a white woman, which may explain avoiding the elephant in the room.
Ma is really about a troubled woman taking revenge on some popular jerks who peaked at 16. The film is grotesque and in-your-face while providing a plot simple enough for a toddler to understand. It sits somewhere in between awful and good; it can’t figure out where it stands, but the potential is there. If you’re planning on going to see Ma, buy a ticket for Spencer’s acting and head to the theatre 60 minutes after it starts.