Octavia Spencer portrays a mysterious, middle-aged woman who seems to be battling loneliness in Ma, a social thriller by Tate Taylor, the director of The Help—in which she won her Oscar. Spencer is terrific at full length; Taylor’s direction is unquestionably intense; yet, Ma isn’t the kind of movie that will make the collaboration thrives. It doesn’t shy away from being exploitative; and, Scotty Landes’ script only confirms its lethargic narrative.
Spencer is Sue Ann, an assistant to a rude vet (Allison Janney). Albeit friendly to the customers (and their pets, as well), she is not a social person; something seems to wander in her mind. In one fateful moment, she encounters Maggie (Booksmart’s Diana Silvers), a new girl in town, with her new cliques as they attempt to buy liquors from a local store. Soon, Sue Ann becomes a regular booze dealer for the party kids and the kids start calling her ‘Ma’; she even goes as further as allowing the kids to use her basement as a party chamber, under one condition only: they shan’t go upstairs at any cost.
Landes’ story takes its time to build everything up from scratch. Those who have seen the trailers or any promotional materials might wonder where the real deal, which the trailer has proudly exposed, is. Ma will show you how mood swing is. At a time, Sue Ann will act as the progressive mother figure (if not irresponsible) who will host the party and do the robotic dance to some retro songs. At some other time, she will be the creep who will get at mad at Maggie and pals when they refuse to party at her place. Spencer handles the swing adeptly; pointing a gun this minute and bring the kids pizza roll the other minute.
In the intermission, Ma will insert some flashbacks from Sue Ann’s high school year, trying to make juxtaposition to her present mysterious state. It’s easy to conclude Stephen King’s Carrie influence with a more disturbing end. By the time, the narrative unravels this, Ma slips into logic paralysis. What could’ve been a sharp slap to the high school bullying and targeted humiliation ends up being an exploitative revenge thriller. Sadly, the third act is unarguably Ma’s finest moments with strong imagery and intense thrills; however, it also becomes the moment where the narrative goes downhill.
For Tate Taylor, this is a respective slip after The Girl on the Train. His directorial efforts are meticulous, and he once again leads Spencer to deliver the ‘Ma’ character from his vision. It’s difficult not to sympathize with the miserable lady, but the script does not give us reasons to do so. In the end, it’s the unbalanced narrative that hinders Ma from being the horror it tries to be. With Octavia Spencer’s creepy performance should’ve made Ma a terrifically spine-chilling thriller, but Taylor once again slips in the uneven narrative.