Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer is brilliant as the kooky Sue Ann otherwise known as ‘Ma‘.
The thriller/horror from Blumhouse Productions, now forever cemented as the company behind Oscar-winning film Get Out, is more light-hearted than Get Out. Race is not a factor here. Which is why Spencer’s casting in her first leading role is brilliant. Because it’s absolutely about race from this perspective.
The synopsis – A lonely middle-aged woman befriends some teenagers and decides to let them party in the basement of her home. But there are some house rules: One of the kids has to stay sober, don’t curse, and never go upstairs. They must also refer to her as Ma. But as Ma’s hospitality starts to curdle into obsession, what began as a teenage dream turns into a terrorising nightmare, and Ma’s place goes from the best place in town to the worst place on Earth.
The group of teenagers are lead by newcomer to town ‘Maggie‘ played by Diana Silvers (Glass), followed by Corey Fogelmanis (Girl Meets World) as boy next door ‘Andy‘, Gianni Paolo (Power) is the requisite jock ‘Chaz‘, McKaley Miller (Scream Queens) is popular entitled girl ‘Hayley‘ and the also requisite cool black kid is ‘Darrell‘ played by Dante Brown (Lethal Weapon). They’re a cute bunch and play out their stereotypical teenage roles without fault.
Maggie’s mother ‘Erica‘ (an, on form Juliette Lewis) is well-written. The single mother-daughter dynamic realistic; believable and it’s just good to see Lewis doing what she does best, cool and edgy. Another highlight in what you could almost describe as a cameo role is Oscar-winning Allison Janney (I, Tonya) as Ma’s bitchy boss ‘Doctor Brooks‘.
But Ma totally belongs to Spencer. Who slips between fun, funny, creepy, embarrassing and pervy … yes, pervy quite seamlessly. Directed by her friend Tate Taylor who also directed her in her Oscar-winning role in The Help (2011), Ma’s character was originally scripted for a white actress. Taylor went with Spencer and this is where race becomes a factor because Ma is not bound by her colour. She does not speak in ebonics, nor constantly reference her race (there is one time… but it’s on point, funny and not weighted or loaded).
What’s great is that Spencer is good in her leading role. Spencer as Ma/Su-Ann is great for black woman representation on screen in roles which allow us the freedom to be ‘normal’ – though don’t be mistaken. Ma is insane. But at least she’s not insane because she’s a single mother to four children, two in jail, one on drugs the other killed in the next scene by a racist cop… There is an implication that Ma is possibly mistreated as a teen and in her adult life for being black, or maybe she was just an oddball who could never fit in. We’re left to interpret it how we want.
Borrowing from the obvious Misery, Scream, Carrie cannon, Ma flits between classic horror and teenage nonsense. Which is okay for the most part. It’s fun until it’s not. Written by Scotty Landes, with Ma being his first feature, the story pushes us to empathise and fear Ma with flashbacks of Ma’s not so great time in high school. When the penny drops about what’s really up with Ma, it’s a little too late. Somewhere along the way what starts off as clever and humorously dark soon turns into eye-rolling groan-inducing ‘why is this happening?‘ moments of incredulity. The suspense at key moments is forgotten for another plot moving device. Some of the supposed to be scary or at best jumpy moments at peak times of the narrative end up being slightly underwhelming. The ending … hmmm.
That said. Ma is a get your tribe, go to the cinema enjoy the good bits, laugh at the silly, type film. You’ll definitely come out with a bemused smile on your face.
Ma is in UK cinemas Friday 31st May 2019