As psychotic neighbors go, you could do worse than Octavia Spencer’s Ma. After all, while—yes—she has a quick temper and a tendency to go batshit crazy, she also lets you hang out in her basement and party as much as you want. It’s a tradeoff many teens would kill for—die for, even—and it’s a movie worth a watch, even if it never reaches the heights of Misery, a level to which it clearly aspires.
Ma revolves around Sue Ann, a sad, lonely woman who has never gotten the respect or attention she so desperately wants and needs. Oscar winner Octavia Spencer dives into the role with glee, submitting a sinister if somewhat sympathetic character to the echelons of film. She’s sympathetic in that director Tate Taylor dives into her back story and establishes bullying as the reason why she turned psychotic—a move that both helps propel the story forward but also feels as the easy out.
And if anything, Ma does feel easy—there isn’t anything particularly clever, original, or surprising about the movie. In that regard, as good as Spencer is, there isn’t quite enough here to send this movie to the annals of horror history, let alone be remembered a year or two from now. The movie could have explored more of its disturbed storylines—Sue Ann’s fascination with certain teenage boys, or the hackneyed subplot involving her daughter.
But within its conventions, within the expected path it takes, Ma is a fast-paced, entertaining, and well-executed little thriller that delivers upon the promises of its marketing. Beyond Spencer, the rest of the cast is dutiful—Diana Silvers makes for a worthy protagonist, and Juliette Lewis is perfectly cast as her mother. Taylor knows his movie isn’t high art, and so he’s cut out most of the fat—Ma is lean, taut, and mildly suspenseful.
Ma never colors outside the lines, but it’s a satisfyingly fun psycho-thriller powered by an Octavia Spencer performance that elevates the material.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.