MA is the latest film from director Tate Taylor (The Help, Get On Up), co-written by Taylor and Scotty Landes (Comedy Central’s Workaholics), which centers on a lonely woman who begins to dangerously spiral after she befriends a group of teenagers. The film stars Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help), Diana Silvers (Glass), Juliette Lewis (August: Osage County), Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast), Missi Pyle (Gone Girl), McKaley Miller (TV’s Hart of Dixie), Corey Fogelmanis (TV’s Girl Meets World), Gianni Paolo (TV’s Power) and Dante Brown (Lethal Weapon).
Based on the official synopsis, Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) is a loner who keeps to herself in her quiet Ohio town. One day, she is asked by Maggie (Diana Silvers), a new teenager in town, to buy some booze for her and her friends, and Sue Ann sees the chance to make some unsuspecting, if younger, friends of her own. She offers the kids the chance to avoid drinking and driving by hanging out in the basement of her home. But there are some house rules: One of the kids has to stay sober. Don’t curse. Never go upstairs. And call her “Ma.” But as Ma’s hospitality starts to curdle into obsession, what began as a teenage dream turns into a terrorizing nightmare, and Ma’s place goes from the best place in town to the worst place on earth.
In the simplest terms, I thought MA was an absolute blast. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have my expectations too high or maybe it’s because I thought the plot was going to go a different direction than it did, but regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed MA. At its core, this is a revenge film, and as Ma’s story unfolds through flashbacks of her as a high-schooler, it’s hard not to feel some level of empathy towards what she went through. However, that doesn’t justify her horrific actions or the way she treats the majority of the characters, but it’s hard at the same time to watch her suffer from years of bullying and mistreatment, especially considering she’s the only woman of color that we see. To some, the unraveling of Ma – from the moment we meet her outside the liquor store to the final frame of the film – might seem sudden, but one has to remember that this is a woman who has reached the point of no return and to her, she has nothing left to lose.
Octavia Spencer positively shines as Sue Ann (aka Ma) and is able to combine humor, sadness, and terror throughout her entire performance. I can’t imagine having to act alongside an Oscar winner is easy, but the rest of the cast was able to hold their own. Diana Silvers, who plays new girl Maggie, is the innocent doe-eyed girl who, after befriending a group of her classmates, meets Ma outside a liquor store in hopes she’ll purchase alcohol for them. When Ma invites them over to party, it’s almost a no-brainer because what 16-year-old doesn’t want a secret place to drink and smoke without getting caught? There is genuine chemistry between her and her group of friends, especially when she finds a love interest in Andy (Corey Fogelmanis). However, when Maggie’s radar goes off in regards to feeling like something isn’t right with Ma, it takes some convincing to get her friends on board, but once they are, Ma quickly realizes that she’s losing their interest and must take extreme measures in hopes of winning them back. When that doesn’t work, violence begins to come into play and though those moments are somewhat humorous they are no less lethal (though I can easily see a few women cheering at one point). Also, I want to point out how terrific it was to see Juliette Lewis in the role of Erica, Maggie’s mom, and I would like to think that if I ever become a mom I would have a very similar attitude as her.
My only real critique of the film had to do with the writing. Though I don’t think Ma’s transformation was sudden, I do wish the writers took the time to flesh out more of Ma’s life, especially in regards to her relationship with her daughter. This might be a bit spoilery so I apologize in advance but my takeaway was that her daughter Genie (Tanyell Waivers) was being subjected to Munchausen by proxy. I think expanding on that relationship would have given the audience a chance to understand Genie and Ma on a deeper level. The film has a lot of strengths and does deal with a lot of pertinent issues such as bullying but I think the overall story, as a whole, needed to be expanded on more.
With all that said, MA is still a summertime thriller that horror fans will have a blast seeing with Octavia Spencer proving once again how much of an incredibly prolific actress she truly is. Though I think there needed to be more of a focus on fine-tuning the story, I enjoyed the overall execution and can only hope we will see Octavia shine in more horror films to come. Make sure to check out MA this Friday when it’s released in theaters and (safely) kick back a few drinks because it’s 5pm somewhere and Ma doesn’t like to drink alone!