If nothing else, the new horror opus, Ma, has one thing in its corner in which to recommend it. That would be the central performance in the title role by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer. Spencer is reunited here with director Tate Taylor who also helmed, The Help, the film for which she netted the supporting actress prize in 2012. He obviously knows how to play to the actress’ strengths. Tate gives her free reign to let it all hang out, so to speak, in this film and it is all the better for it.
Unfortunately, performances can’t really make or break a film. That’s a feat that usually lies at the hands of the film’s script. Ma is scripted by Scotty Landes who has no other credits to his name at this point. I suppose that for a first time script it certainly shows promise, although I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it suffers from some of the same problems that crop up in scripts penned by many writers who are just starting out. Namely a resolution that doesn’t quite match some of the stronger aspects found in the film.
There is, at the very least, a unique concept at the heart of Ma even if it isn’t quite milked to its full potential. Small town loner, Sue Ann (Spencer), is recruited by a group of teens to buy them some booze, being that they are underage. She appears reluctant at first but eventually agrees to help the kids in their age-old dilemma. She slowly begins to insert herself into the lives of the kids, even going so far as to provide the teens with a place to party. At first she appears to just be a kindred spirit until more sinister motives are revealed during the film’s final section, which I won’t go into here in the interest of not spoiling what surprises there are to be discovered.
Ma does offer a solid opening and mid section, and the suspense is built quite effectively by director Taylor. The film also earns its R rating in spades due to some of its more graphic content. The final section, unfortunately, proves to be the weak link in the chain, but there are enough effective moments throughout that less demanding audience members may be willing to forgive the film of its final act transgressions. As far as horror films of this type go Ma is a mixed bag, but not necessarily in a bad way.
Ma is playing playing in Charlotte.
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