Ma ★½

There’s something bizarrely enjoyable about Octavia Spencer karate-kicking beer cans in the throes of a teenage beer party. And I appreciate her career move with MA. I’m not certain I’ve seen much range in her three Oscar-nominated/winning roles. A team up with Blumhouse in a likely-to-be highly profitable ‘concept’ horror is probably a strong move in increasing her recognizability and star-power brand. It definitely makes her more interesting than she was prior to this role.

With its central concept of a
creepy adult abetting young partiers, MA’s modern-day cringyness has a weird tone that threatens to work. But regrettably, as MA’s plot unravels via uncomfortable little flashbacks and weird scenes involving Spencer’s behaviour, MA’s thriller-horror premise loses its mojo (if it actually has any). Spencer’s character’s motive and M.O. could each make compelling circumstances to flesh out a film like this, but they don’t work with one another.

Spencer’s backstory of horrible humiliation goes for a jolt that holds water, I guess, for a revenge story. But her targeting a handful of teens is a generation removed from where common sense says to focus her revenge. Even if one buys into the attack-the-teens philosophy, Ma does an awful lot which makes no sense (why host parties for dozens of irrelevant kids? Why does she kill her boss?). Furthermore, the whole chain of events seems set off by happenstance meeting in a parking lot.

MA is littered with plot points and other details that don’t make sense, are forced, or are plain needless—Ma’s daughter, Juliette Lewis’s involvement in the back story, the truck murder, Luke Evans’ blow job).

I feel as if there is a tremendous amount of MA on the cutting room floor. As it is, it’s little more than an illogical mess featuring a main character that on the one hand the filmmakers want you to sympathize with but on the other they want you to dread. You can’t have it all.

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