By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Not too long after another psychological thriller hit theaters (The Intruder) another one arrives at the ready to take its place. To its credit, Ma does have a compelling and interesting story to offer, but this doesn’t quite prevent the filmmakers from retreading some all-too-familiar territory. Also to its benefit is the fact that lead actress Octavia Spencer offers a performance that is captivating, entertaining and appropriately demented. All in all, Ma is not a bad film, but it doesn’t exactly break the mold either.
Spencer stars as Sue Ann “Ma” Ellington, a seemingly shy and lonely woman who is a relatively unknown member of a very small town. High school student Maggie Thompson (Diana Silvers) and her mother Erica (Juliette Lewis) have moved to this small town where Erica was born and raised. It doesn’t take too long for Maggie to make friends with the popular crowd at her school and even captures the attention of classmate Andy (Corey Fogelmanis). One particular evening, Maggie and her new friends cross paths with Sue Ann and ask her to purchase some alcohol so that they can party. Reluctant at first, Sue Ann agrees and actually enjoys the attention she receives from the teens. After agreeing to assist the kids with their acquisition of adult beverages, “Ma” suggests that they congregate at her house where she can keep a “safe” watch over them.
Directed by Tate Taylor and written by Scott Landes, Ma does deliver tension, thrills, frights, and a decent, but familiar story of sadness, obsession and revenge. This thriller walks a line between drama and camp and this formula works well by offering thrills, laughs and eerie chills. For the most part, the movie is well put together, but ends a bit messily with a sloppily put together climactic conclusion. Still, I rather enjoyed the movie as a whole and feel that most fans of this type of thriller will enjoy it as well.
The movie has some good, but exceptional performances by most of the cast, but it is Octavia Spencer who really shines here. As the filmmakers walk that line between drama and camp, so does Spencer. She knows exactly what she has to do in this type of movie and beautifully handles it like an artist. She offers a wonderfully developed and realized character that not only deserves some empathy, but also wears the mask of a monster as a way of copimg with her turmoil. And when its time to get nuts, she gets nuts and it is an absolute joy to behold.
So even though this movie doesn’t exactly redefine the psychological thriller involving a broken, obsessive psycho, Octavia Spencer makes an impact of her own in the subgenre. I feel that both The Intruder and Ma have these same things in common. The key villains in both films are the main reasons to take these familiar journeys.