Ma has its finger in a number of genre pies; the kindly woman-turned-psycho movie of the ‘90s (think The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, Single White Female), the teen antics and OTT horror of Carrie and the torture porn of the film’s production house Blumhouse. Yet it’s more than just a derivative feel that undoes Tate Taylor’s amped up exploitation movie.
It’s a sluggish start filled with obvious teen tropes as good girl Maggie (Silvers from Booksmart) hooks up with the cool kids ('You don’t vape?' Miller’s Hayley asks her) who spend their nights boozing at an abandoned rock quarry until veterinary assistant Sue Ann (Spencer) invites them back to her basement to carouse in comfort. Sue Ann’s place — she gets the nickname 'Ma' — becomes the destination for partying kids, as these kids dance to Earth Wind And Fire and watch Ma kick down beer cans to Carl Douglas’ 'Kung Fu Fighting'. Yet there are insistent hints — an over-eager use of social media for one, lies about her health for another — that Ma is not all she seems. But time and again the (bland) teens ignore the clues and keep coming back
Taylor, who directed Spencer to an Oscar in The Help, is perhaps too tasteful a director to fully commit to the required trashy grand guignol of it all. Spencer’s performance veers wildly from a subtle study in loneliness to full flash-and-thunder crazed victim that never finds any context for Ma (and MA) to believably exist. Similarly, the motivation for Ma’s scheming is drip-fed in a series of flashbacks that when fully revealed lack both logic and definition. It takes so long to reveal Ma’s true colours all the fun and frolics are reserved for the last act. At this point, it becomes kind of fun but it’s too late to really invest.