You could say that my anticipation for Ma was decreasing every time a new or similar trailer for the horror would be shown on my television screen or in the cinema before a feature. I’m pretty certain that some serious scenes would have worked extremely well if kept secret from the repetitive trailers. Luckily after viewing the film, I can safely say that while yes, the trailer does spoil some crucial moments in the film, a majority of the duration is spent on the edge of your seat trying to figure out what exactly is wrong with Ma.
Octavia Spencer and director Tate Taylor reunite for the first time since the critically acclaimed The Help for this oddball horror film. Taylor’s direction reminds me of the fantastic Stephen King novel and later classic film, Misery. The film takes on the form of a generic horror film, with some bizarre, slightly spoiled antics of an insane woman coming in near the end. Taylor’s imagery is bleak, as it takes on a gloomy and never overly sunny atmosphere for the world that Ma lives in and the one that the teens enjoy partying in. While I don’t think that Taylor executed the film to its fullest potential, The Help director utilizes what he can of comedic writer Scotty Landed’s script and has Spencer on board to easily propel this average film high on the top of generic pileup that is known as today’s horror genre.
The plot follows Maggie (Diana Silvers) as she is welcomed to town by a group of typical teens breaking rules and attempting to convince someone to purchase a small amount of booze for their night on the town. In their search for that person they come across Ma, who not only buys them the alcohol but invites them to her basement so she can watch over them and make sure no bad choices are made in the night. From the first night at Ma’s, the group of teens become trapped in a psychiatric battle between Ma and themselves. Discard the teen focus of the film and lay that in the background as we focus on what is really intriguing and compelling: Ma’s backstory. How she went from a sweet, self conscious, and shy teenager to the manipulative, self absorbed lunatic that she is today. As this plays out in the film, it is by far the most enticing element of the feature as you learn more and more, eventually unsure where your loyalties lie for the “villain” of the film.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
While the majority of the film revolves around a group of teens, it’s not the teenage actors involved that will make you cling to the edge of your seat to see what happens next; it’s Octavia Spencer’s Ma, who outdoes everyone involved in terms of sheer interest. Ma’s backstory is the only levity to the story at hand, and the teens, especially the main character Maggie whose romantic interest doesn’t really ever intrigue the way it’s probably meant to. There are twists and turns along the way, many that were spoiled by the ads prior to the film’s release, and others that came as a surprise. Octavia Spencer makes the film as good as it is, and I think without her haunting image of Ma becoming more intensely insane, the film would lay on the bed of other generic horror titles. There’s a glorified cameo by Academy Award Winner Allison Janney, but her screen time is minimal and incredibly unnecessary for the film - a role that any actor could have taken. With certain twists left to be unraveled, I’ll just say that some actors are better than others within the film, with Spencer on a whole other level above them all. Nobody ruins the film or docks any enjoyment, but there’s a clear level of talent that some just don’t get close to reaching.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Composer Gregory Tripi’s score is heavily forgettable until the final moments of the film. From a severely disturbing scene to the conclusion of the film’s entirety, the film takes on a new life with its score. It resembles the likes of John Carpenter's classic scores for They Live, Halloween, and Escape From New York. This drastic change of direction with the music is a bittersweet end to the film, as it showcases what could have been throughout the entire runtime of the film; a missed opportunity. The sound design is excellent, and every gruesome crime is brutally captured with the audio. This is something that Blumhouse is always known to appreciate in the films they produce.
A grim overtone lies over the film for the majority of the feature, with the real gore/practical effects occurring nearly half way or more into the film. When the effects begin, they leave more of a questionable stain on your eyes from their odd criminal intentions. There are two in particular that measure up to the extremes that the trailers promised and have you gripping the armrests as tight as you can until the torture is complete.
Ma may not be coming out of the shadows to become a household horror icon, but she’s certainly someone to witness if you’re bored of films like Truth or Dare and Slender Man coming out more often than quality horror. Ma may not be as revolutionary as Stephen King’s Misery but for some this could be considered a very modern take on that Stephen King classic.