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Ma – Movie Review

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Ma – Movie Review

Rating: C (Average)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

The stalker movie was recently done in Neil Jordan’s Greta and now, with Ma, director Tate Taylor puts his own spin on the concept. Instead of one person, the focus is on a whole pack of teenagers. Ma doesn’t bring too much to the table, as it emphasizes cheap thrills and easily telegraphed plot points. Octavia Spencer gives the title role her all, but we spend most of the time watching a bunch of drunk teenagers. That gets old extremely quickly, not helped by how the film has a minimal worldview of what teenagers are actually like. The movie wants to be trashy and ridiculous, but never quite reaches the entertainment value required.

One of the central themes of Ma is one often seen in these kinds of thrillers, wherein a group of rowdy teenagers get their comeuppance for their unlawful behaviour. It’s meant as a cautionary tale, but one where we’re supposed to feel sorry for these young people and the trouble they find themselves in. The problem is these characters only exist in one mode, as the movie thinks every teenager is a burgeoning alcoholic. That is the main motivation of these youths during the story and it makes it difficult to care. Diana Silvers’s Maggie is the only teen given some sort of dimension, but even she can succumb to making the wrong decisions.

The most sympathetic character ends up being Maggie’s mother, as played by Juliette Lewis. She is actually an interesting person and one almost wishes this was a small, character-driven film about her dealing with returning to her small town and getting a job at the local casino. When she gets upset at her daughter, it’s hard not to take the mother’s side. Meanwhile, Octavia Spencer seems to relish the opportunity to play such an obsessive personality. However, there is not much to her characterization. We know Sue Ann, nicknamed “Ma” by the teenagers, is unhinged and the film leans on that. There isn’t too much of a surprise when things go off the rails and the flashbacks to her past seem to exist to over explain things.

Ma leans heavily on the shock value, too. There are a lot of moments that exist to provide cheap thrills and produce the rightly timed gasps. The squeamish scenes aren’t earned, though. They are neither goofy enough to get an ironic laugh nor are they terrifying when attempting to be serious. The screenplay thinks it’s being clever with the plot twists, but Taylor’s direction downplays the surprise element by telegraphing these reveals. It takes the fun out of this ride, which eventually sputters to its conclusion. If Ma wants to be a cheap B-movie, then it absolutely has every right to. However, it never becomes entertaining enough to earn that distinction.

The film primarily exists as a vehicle for Octavia Spencer to play a more villainous character than we’re accustomed to seeing from her. Ma is the least of the problems in her own movie, though, as the notion of watching teenagers constantly drink and smoke pot with stereotypical dialogue is a tiring one. This is the sort of movie that thrusts these young people together for the sake of the plot, but there is no meaningful connection between them. Even a romance that forms between Maggie and a boy lacks any sort of spark. This is destined for the 3 am timeslot on cable television. If it did something a bit more interesting, then 11 pm would be more fitting.

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

Stefan Ellison