Growing up, whenever I got the chance to play pretend with the kids in my hood I always wanted to be the bad guy. If we were playing “Power Rangers” I wanted to be Goldar. If we were playing Cops and Robbers I wanted to be the dirty cop. I don’t know what it says about me that I leaned so much toward the darker characters to portray. I promise, I was a good kid and maybe I gravitated toward villains because it was so against my sweet nature.
And I was really good at it too.
When I got older and into theater in New York I had my share of hero roles but reveled in playing the villain or characters with great duality. There’s something very attractive about evil characters that turn us on. The Joker, Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, and now Ma.
Octavia Spencer has had a long career but really left her mark with her Oscar winning supporting performance in Tate Taylor’s “The Help”. She was sweet yet had a mean side and shitty way of doling out justice too. Now, she’s a multi Oscar nominee, an Academy Award winning producer, and has the cachet to do almost whatever she wants. Super Hero movie, Comedy, Horror… … ... yeah; let’s go horror. Let’s not only go horror, thriller/ whatever you want to call it, but let her be the lead where she plays the bad guy and can do whatever the hell she wants too.
Maggie (Diana Silvers) and her mom (Juliette Lewis) move back to a small town in Ohio. She’s a sweet girl from San Diego who gets a tour of the town and the school her mom grew up in. She links up with a group of diverse friends who are your typical High School bunch. The slutty hot chick, her kind of a jock boyfriend, the quiet one, and the token black guy.
This cast is teeming with diversity, lol.
Maggie fits right in. One afternoon while the gang are out trying to get booze, Maggie solicits an older black woman (Olivia Spencer) to buy her and her new friends some alcohol. She’s reluctant but gets a gaze at Andy (Corey Fogelmanis) in the driver seat. She accepts, buys them liquor, and sees them off. They meet up again a few days later and convince her to buy some more, she then offers the teens the best drinking spot in town back at her house as theirs was compromised. She tells them to call her Ma. She lays out some strict rules and while her friendship is a bit peculiar to say the least the teens agree and over the weeks Ma’s house becomes the best party in town. As the party’s become more frequent and even wilder so does Ma’s behavior. Thing is, her intentions are increasingly mysterious, devious, salacious, and all out odd which begins to turn off Maggie and Haley (The Slutty Hot Chick). When Ma becomes aware of the group’s distance, it throws her over the edge and her obsession with acceptance and a possible axe to grind spirals into madness.
“Ma” is a theater going experience like what I used to grow up with. A fully engaging almost call and response like vibe that fires up the audience and elicits some of the best reactions I’ve felt from a horror film in quite a while.
It starts out slow. Like real slow. Like, oh man is this going to be that bad, kind of slow. Maggie is super regular, and whose ever decision it was to dress her like a mid-90’s farm hand should think about another career. Or, if it was Tate Taylor’s decision then points deducted my friend. Many of the characters are uninteresting, not directed to their best and unsupported by dialogue that just doesn’t work in the 1st act. These generic characters are too reminiscent of bad B- Movie Horror films from the past, but thankfully the film somehow redeems itself when we’re finally introduced to Ma.
Octavia Spencer ignites everything that happens around her. The supporting characters are more fleshed, colorful and gain personalities. Darrell (Dante Brown) and Chaz (Gianni Paolo) become instruments of Ma’s affection and object of her pursuit. She’s starved for a high school experience she feels she was stripped of. Ma gives Maggie an obstacle to overcome and when she thinks she’s gotten away, Ma finds another person to latch onto that ropes her back in. It’s when Maggie begins to piece together Ma’s past, the narrative shifts to a more focused unraveling that Octavia Spencer kills; literally and figuratively.
Where this film succeeds most is the commitment to the gore, the deaths, the all-out craziness on display by Ma. The plot isn’t so straightforward and there’s a lot to question about her motivations. Why now? What’s the big plan? Really, is that how you’re going to handle things? Honestly, its provocative and makes you question her character, then you realize she’s not all there. There’s a lot of layers to her and even more to Octavia’s performance. We don’t question a roller coaster for how many loopty loops it has and why it chose to do a 100ft drop after that ramp up and slow down. You just go along for the ride.
“Ma” is a cringe worthy, uncomfortable ride and a helluva theater going experience. The film starts out slow and exposes glaring weaknesses in tone and story yet somehow flips the script throughout the rest of the film and boasts an over the top performance to remember from Octavia Spencer. You must dispense a lot of logic and just go with it. If you do, you’ll thank me. If you don’t, good luck.
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 7/10
Director: Tate Taylor
Writer: Scotty Landes
Starring: Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis, Luke Evans
Run Time: 99 mins