Diana Silvers and Octavia Spencer in Ma (Photo: Universal)
*** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Tate Taylor
STARS Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers
Ma might be the latest horror show from the prolific Blumhouse Productions (Get Out, Happy Death Day, The Purge, and oh-so-many-more), but it also serves as a particularly effective anti-bullying PSA. Don’t be mean to your timid classmates, or they may come a-calling for revenge even decades down the road.
Octavia Spencer, usually cast in completely sympathetic roles (The Help, The Shape of Water), here gets to play effectively against type, and it proves to be a fine way to spice up her resume. (She also serves as executive producer, signifying complete faith in this decision.) She’s cast as Sue Ann, a middle-aged woman who agrees to buy alcohol for a group of high school students. Turning on the friendliness, she also invites them to party in the basement of her house, the reason being that she would hate for them to be out late drinking and driving.
At first, the five kids are appreciative, and they even affectionately call her “Ma.” Before long, though, it becomes clear that not all is right with their booze-enabling benefactor. Sue Ann becomes possessive of their time and jealous of their activities — reactions largely triggered by memories of the humiliation she endured as a high school student. When the teens attempt to break free from her grip, she becomes even more unpredictable and, ultimately, violent.
There are minor lapses in logic and errors in plotting that might weaken other movies, but Ma is so confident in its ability to spin a rousing tale that such gripes largely fall by the wayside. Certainly, the picture is more entertaining — and less daft — than the recent Greta, another thriller about an older woman snaring young people in her twisted web.
Diana Silvers, currently appearing in a supporting role in Booksmart, is appealing as the most prominent of the teens, while Allison Janney is amusing as a veterinarian who employs Sue Ann as her assistant. This grouchy vet does nothing but yell at Sue Ann all day long — needless to say, she ultimately learns that her bark can’t begin to compete with Sue Ann’s bite.