6 / 10
Octavia Spencer … Sue Ann
From the beginning, Ma is a creepy concept: a middle-aged woman who sets up a party palace in her basement and becomes besties with a group of high school kids. Unfortunately, all you need to know is shown in the trailer. It’s an entertaining ride, but ultimately a rote tale of revenge.
After her marriage falls apart, Erica (Juliette Lewis) moves back home with her teenage daughter, Maggie (Diana Silvers). On her first day at her new school, the “cool kids” befriend her. Not for any nefarious purpose; apparently, kids today are much more welcoming than they were a decade ago. Haley (McKaley Miller), Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), Chaz (Gianni Paolo), and Darrell (Dante Brown) invite Maggie to a party, and after some hesitation, she goes. The party gets canceled, so the five teens have to find a way to get booze on their own. After numerous attempts, they find a woman willing to help them out: vet technician Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer). She buys them a case of booze and sends them on their way – then immediately calls the police anonymously to rat them out.
The next weekend, the kids seek out Sue Ann for more booze. Worried for their safety, she invites the kids out to her house in the middle of nowhere and turns her basement into a party pad. Darrell calls her Ma after she agrees to bring them some snacks, and the nickname sticks.
Ma seems to enjoy partying with the kids as much as they enjoy having a place to party, and the scene in her basement soon grows. More kids, more booze, more Ma. It soon becomes apparent that something is a little off with Ma, and the party pit becomes a living hell.
My biggest problem with Mais actually with the advertising. TV commercials insist that you need to see the film before it is “ruined.” I was hoping that meant there would be some cool twist or a wild ending. There was not. I hate to break it to you, but if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the whole movie.
In fact, the movie was quite straightforward: a revenge plot that did not offer any twists, turns, or subplots. You know that Ma is bad from the trailer, but there is nothing in the film that makes you wonder if she is a red herring. The reason behind her actions are hinted at almost immediately, and while the full story isn’t revealed until the very end, it does not stray from what you were probably thinking. The script, while it has a very basic story, was punched up with realistic dialogue and several funny moments.
What saves this movie from being a direct-to-video dud is the performances. Octavia Spencer as Ma is, unsurprisingly, a delight. She goes from innocent to creepy AF in a split second, without leaving you whip-lashed. Diana Silvers as Maggie is a strong young lead, never too cloying as a good girl, nor too obnoxious when she is a rebellious teen. The rest of her crew follow a similar model: they feel like real teenagers, with a range of emotions and moods.
Another important difference between this and a typical horror film is the nudity. Not a single female character so much as flashes excessive cleavage, but there are two male nude scenes, and both scenes are integral to the plot. In addition, the kids do stupid things (like post pictures of themselves drinking to Instagram and follow a woman they don’t know into the middle of nowhere at the promise of booze) but then eventually wise up (Haley sends out a video warning other kids to stay away from Ma, and Maggie eventually reveals what Ma is up to, even though it means she will get in trouble). There are no slasher tropes here.
Ma is an entertaining film (though it did feel long, despite being less than 100 minutes), but don’t go in hoping for a twisty story or shocking moments. There just weren’t any.