Cast: Octavia Spencer, Diane Silvers, Juliette Lewis, Luke Evans
Director: Tate Taylor
When I think of Octavia Spencer, my mind doesn’t immediately jump to the, “Blumhouse horror movie star,” part of my brain, which is why hearing should would be leading Ma was incredibly interesting to me. I’m used to seeing her in more dramatic and critically-acclaimed roles that have gotten her nominated for three Academy Awards and bringing home the trophy for one of them, so seeing her in a horror movie is definitely a change of pace. The thing is, despite her lack of expertise in this genre, Spencer is easily the best part of this movie. Ma is still a Blumhouse movie, so it has to be violent and immature by nature, but Spencer’s presence elevates into a more than solid 100 minute horror movie.
The film follows Maggie Thompson (Silvers), a high school girl who has recently moved from San Diego to Ohio so her mother (Lewis) can find a job. When Maggie and her new group of friends try to find someone to buy them alcohol, they meet Sue Ann Ellington (Octavia), who they affectionately refer to as “Ma.” Ma buys them alcohol, but does them one better and offers them a place to drink in her basement. While the offer seems generous, Ma isn’t all that she appears to be and has her own sinister motivations. It can’t be understated just how important Spencer is to the success of this movie, because a less talented actress would either take things way too far or not take things far enough with Ma’s character, but Spencer finds the perfect balance for a movie like this. I honestly think Spencer’s background in dramas helped her significantly in this role because she had to strike a balance between eccentric and sympathetic and there’s a very thin line between those two emotions. Taylor’s screenplay may have been an important element in the overall success of this film, because it creates a much more complex character for Ma. At the end of the movie, I didn’t hate Ma in the way that we normally hate movie villains, I ended up pitying her more than anything. She’s had an incredibly traumatic life and while I don’t condone her actions or think they’re ok, I can understand why she did what she did. Outside of Spencer, the film is honestly a pretty standard Blumhouse movie. The teenager actors are just that, and comparing their performances to Spencer’s is like comparing a Honda to Ferrari. Both of them will get you where you want to go, but one looks a lot nicer along the way. The thing that surprised me is just how tame the movie’s gore was compared to other Blumhouse movies. There are a couple of moments have that Blumhouse feel to them, but for the most part Ma is a very soft R-rated movie. The fact that a Blumhouse movie was able to be suspenseful and interesting without having to rely on excessive blood and destruction shows us maybe they have a few more tricks up their sleeve than I thought and this is something hopefully they can replicate in the future.
Overall, Spencer made the right choice by signing onto this movie as it shows that she can act in yet another genre and maintain the same level of success she’s used to. Spencer and Taylor have found success multiple times in the past and while this isn’t the first project I’d attach their names to, Ma is absolutely a pleasant surprise even if it isn’t perfect. As a general fan of horror movies that try to do something unique with their premise or production, Ma won’t be my favorite movie of all time, but it will serve as a solid piece of entertainment and whet the appetite of most viewers.
Overall Score: 6.5/10