Octavia Spencer is fine on almost every level, but the third act loses The Help.
“Ma” is a horror movie that only works in its first two acts and then loses its way towards the end. It doesn’t follow the generic rules of the trailers and posters, because we get to know Octavia Spencer’s sinister character, and why she’s evil in the movie. That worked for me on a lot of ways, until the cliched final act.
As the film begins, a San Diego girl named Maggie (Diana Silvers from “Booksmart”) moves to Mississippi with her single mom (Juliette Lewis), and meets a group of troublemakers, consisting the typically rude Haley (McKaley Miller), the nice guy Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), the hottie Chaz (Gianni Paolo), and the generic African-American kid Darrell (Dante Brown).
They ask a stranger by the name of Sue Ann (Spencer) to buy them alcohol, and she does, but “This never happened,” as she says. Eventually, she lets them party in her basement, under the condition that they don’t go upstairs. And throughout, she stalks them, via text and all. You can already tell she’s up to something, especially when the upstairs is forbidden; you’d be a complete idiot not to.
There are also adults in the movie to that Sue Ann deals with. She works at vet with a mean boss (Allison Janney), and she reunites with her old high school students, Maggie’s mom, Andy’s dad (Luke Evans), and his trampy date (Missi Pyle). She has a past with them that she must take her vengeance on.
Spencer is fine in the ways she presents herself as a loser who gets tired of taking crap from bullies, and I am able to understand the concept. And credit also goes to Diana Silvers for proving herself to be a fine young actress-smart, sexy, and entertaining.
“Ma,” directed by the usually profound Tate Taylor, starts off likable with the personalities and teen parties. At least these parties have more meaning than the illegal casino plot in “The House” or the dangerous stunts in “Action Point.”
But it ends up being lackluster. The main girl’s mom criticizes her for drinking in Sue Ann’s basement, and that argument ends without any payoff, other than the mother’s past with Sue. As fine as Silvers was, her character needed more depth to her family drama.
And there are torture scenes, or would-be torture scenes, I didn’t need to see. Sue considers cutting off her tormentor’s genitals, but decides not to; she also sews a girl’s mouth shut, and drops a hot iron on a boy’s stomach. At least, the least painful is an African-American kid’s face being painted white. As racist as it sounds, at least it isn’t gruesome.
“Ma” has the potential to be an honest thriller, but it chooses to take a u-turn, and leaves me mixed about it.