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Review: Ma

Octavia Spencer stars in Universal Pictures' MA

Ma is a movie that’s hard to promote. When thinking about it, it’s even harder to place it into a specific genre. After seeing it, you may have a difficult time figuring out what it is that you just saw. In today’s world of entertainment, that’s a rare thing to have happen. For that, Ma gets some credit from me even though it’s not exactly what too many people would see as high-quality filmmaking.

Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) is a loner who has always kept to herself until she befriends a group of high schoolers after they ask her to purchase some alcohol. The chance meeting soon turns into what looks to be a pretty sweet arrangement that forms an unlikely bond. Sue Ann’s seemingly hospitable nature sees her inviting the kids over to her house to party in a safe environment because of this. However, the longer they stay there, the more they realize getting to know her might have been a huge mistake.

I spent a decent amount of time thinking I wouldn’t have much to talk about when reviewing Ma. It has a slow pace and unfolds in a way that could cause viewers to lose interest. The reason for that is because most of us are probably looking for something along the lines of a conventional scary movie. I would guess plenty of people want and expect an outrageously violent horror movie that may even contain unique ways to kill off its characters.

Hearing this could be disappointing for some, but they’re not just busy doing nothing as we watch. Instead of just relying on the typical horror that we may be anticipating, they’re busy setting things up and introducing us to a number of different characters who exist in this small town. At the center of it is obviously Sue Ann. Although she isn’t always the focus, she’s affecting everyone we meet with her obvious issues.

Watching her and how she behaves is a bit odd. With her characteristics and personality, she makes the entire movie feel weird. Add that to how they are building it all, it comes off as an awkward movie that doesn’t necessarily fit into any specific category. I guess you can still call it a horror movie, but I don’t think that would be entirely accurate.

In a way, Ma is as much of a psychological thriller than anything else. We’re studying this character and trying to find out just who she is and why she is the way she is. And when you add her and her behavior in with everyone else, there’s also an element of dark comedy that permeates through a significant portion of this. Altogether, it’s just kind of weird in terms of its content and its delivery.

There’s also a good bit of mystery included since we don’t completely know everything we need to know about our lead character. We can see the obvious problems that she has, but we don’t always know how it’s going to unfold. Even though I can’t call this great filmmaking, I will say that it will most likely keep your interest even if you’re not loving what you’re getting.

A segment of viewers may be keeping their eyes on the screen purely out of curiosity since I’m sure plenty of people will dislike this. There’s a lot to unpack as we’re coming to understand how it’s all connected. You can see some of what’s coming, but other parts come from nowhere. This of course mainly happens once the movie moves from weird to straight up crazy.

The first two acts are weird. Nothing too vicious is being shown here, but we’re watching Octavia Spencer deliver a dedicated performance full of effort. If nothing else, you’ll take away that she’s having fun playing the type of character with so many layers and so many warts. Her character is not the type of person an actor gets to play all the time, so I’m betting she probably enjoyed it based on that alone.

Once things go crazy, they stay crazy and never let up. When this happens, it’s kind of like a person who’s ashamed of themselves just let’s go and quits trying to hide their blemishes from the rest of the world. There’s a specific scene that gets us to this moment and works as a definitive plot point that brings us to where we thought we might end up a lot earlier. I won’t say what scene it is, but you’ll know it when you see it for yourself.

There’s a part of me that wishes they got to the violence and mayhem sooner, but I don’t know if all that we see after the shift would have had the same impact. Saving it for the final act was risky and may have hurt the movie overall, but this is an odd and uneven one that will be hard for anyone to forget. I can’t say it’s a good movie, because it isn’t. In fact, it’s quite a mess, but it’s a mess that you won’t mind watching.

I don’t normally suggest watching movies that I don’t see as being good, but Ma is an exception. I’m sure there will be people who like it, but that may be because of its creepy nature more than any actual positive attributes that it may have. From my view, it’s a movie that I may watch again simply because of its craziness and its unorthodox tone. It’s something you rarely see and can generate a level of interest purely based on its insanity.

Rating: R

Director: Tate Taylor

Octavia Spencer
Diana Silvers
Juliette Lewis
Luke Evans
Missi Pyle
McKaley Miller
Corey Fogelmanis
Gianni Paolo
Dante Brown
Alison Janney

Film Length: 99 minutes

Release Date: May 31, 2019

Distributor: Universal Pictures

  • 4.5/10
    Score - 4.5/10
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