A psychological horror from director Tate Taylor, the man responsible for The Help and The Girl on the Train, Ma is a fantastic piece of escapist fun that perfectly balances the absurd with the disturbing. The end result is a movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat and a story that gleefully winks at the audience whilst delivering some pretty out-there moments.
The story is deceptively simple. Maggie (Diana Silvers) is the new girl who returns to the small hometown of her single mother Erica (Juliette Lewis) to start a new life. With her mom working late-shifts to make ends meet, Maggie has a lot of unsupervised time on her hands, and she soon befriends a group of kids from school. Haley (McKaley Miller), Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), Chaz (Gianni Paolo) and Darrell (Dante Brown) drive around town in a van looking for places to drink. But first they have to buy said booze, so they wait outside the liquor store hoping that they can persuade someone over 21 to buy them alcohol.
They convince local veterinary assistant Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) to do just that. They strike up a friendship with her, and she in turn offers to let the kids drink in the basement of her house rather than drive around town unsupervised. But soon, Ma (as Sue Ann likes to be called) gets a little too involved in the lives of the teenagers, and starts a chain of events that will echo the sins of her disturbing past.
The film hinges on the central performance of Octavia Spencer, and she is a revelation here. Clearly having fun with the outlandish nature of the role, Spencer is simply amazing, getting the tone just right by always keeping the viewer on tenterhooks. She switches from sweet to sinister in a heartbeat and her chemistry with the young cast is palpable. When she goes really crazy it’s brilliant, but Spencer brings a restraint (even in these scenes) that makes it all believable. Ma is a new horror icon, make no mistake.
Diana Silvers seems to be the flavour of the month, having impressed here and also in Olivia Wilde’s teen comedy Booksmart, opposite Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. She leads the young cast well, who all collectively convince as clueless teenagers. They also all play the comedy angle well, especially McKaley Miller’s Haley who has some really choice one-liners. Then there’s the older cast who all hand in assured roles, especially Juliette Lewis as Maggie’s long-suffering single-mom and Luke Evans as Andy’s dad. Missi Pyle and Allison Janney show up in strong cameo roles too.
The pacing of the film is brilliant and builds up tension in a very real and believable way. The film also doesn’t rely on loud jump scares, which is such a breath of fresh air for the genre. Scotty Landes script sparkles with hilarious put-downs and clever twists, and the film also resists the temptation to fall into cliché which was nice to see. The ensemble makes this tick along nicely and there’s enough curiosity in the back-story to keep things interesting at all times.
Ma is creepy, unsettling and very entertaining and easily sits as one of the best horrors of the year. After Us, The Curse of La Llorona and Pet Sematary really disappointing earlier in the year, it’s great to finally have a decent genre movie and one that is so relentlessly entertaining. It’s bonkers in the best way possible and guarantees a great night out at the cinema, especially if you go with a group of friends. Throw in a killer soundtrack and you have a real winner that Ma would be proud of.
Cast: Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis, Luke Evans, McKaley Miller, Corey Fogelmanis, Gianni Paolo, Dante Brown, Tate Taylor, Tanyell Waivers, Dominic Burgess, Missi Pyle, Allison Janney, Heather Marie Pate Director: Tate Taylor Writer: Scotty Landes Certificate: 15 Duration: 99mins Released by: Universal Release date: 31st May 2019