Ma (2019) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

Ma (2019) only grabbed my attention because Octavia Spencer is such a tremendous actress, and I couldn’t resist seeing her in a villainous role in a horror-thriller. The movie’s premise seems far more simple in the trailer than the surreal world the film pulls the audience into. While there are some tough moments to watch, the movie feels half-baked, and the horror elements too few.

Ma never quite delivers what is promised, but it’s still quite an experience

Maggie (Diana Silvers) and her mother (Juliette Lewis) just moved back to her mother’s old stomping grounds. Hoping to fit in, Maggie befriends Haley (McKaley Miller), Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), Chaz (Gianni Paolo), and Darrell (Dante Brown). They take turns asking random adults to buy them liquor and are constantly refused until Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) reluctantly concedes. This blossoms an odd alliance between “Ma” and the kids, which slowly becomes obsessive.

The cast in Ma is pretty spectacular overall. All five teenagers do a great job in their roles, with Paolo feeling a little too big at times – but he ultimately fits his character’s personality. Fogelmanis is a little too bland to be the love interest of Maggie, but he is charming enough to get by for what the movie is requesting. Silvers and Miller are both terrific, and really have a strong enough presence to mashup against Spencer. However, it is the adults who really offer some surprises.

Spencer is marvelous in her performance, and she is often seen idly staring into nothing, which is unnerving. You can almost see the crazy cogs turning in her mind. Spencer is able to hit every emotion the character needs to deliver in this odd performance, which goes places I had not expected based on the trailer’s premise. Regarding Lewis, she usually brings it – and I think she’s perfectly at home in her role for this film, even if some of the parenting scenes feel poorly written. I was surprised to see Luke Evans, Missi Pyle, and Allison Janney in the film, as their roles are relatively small, though important. Each brings something to the film that makes it work a little more. However, the roles are mostly thankless, and it is shocking that they would take such a small role for this crazy movie.

The writing is truly where the film feels weakest. There are a number of ideas introduced that don’t really pay off. For example, the fact that Maggie and her mother have moved back to her mother’s old town really doesn’t’ resonate much within the film’s story. It’s not completely irrelevant, but it also doesn’t add anything of any value. There are a few other strands that would definitely give away the film’s plot for me to mention…but they just felt like they were left dangling. It also takes a long time to get to the horror of the film, and it doesn’t truly feel earned. The reason that Ma snaps never seems clear enough, leaving me feeling a little empty at the conclusion.

Final thoughts…

At least Ma doesn’t give you much time to waste, as the movie moves quite briskly through its 99-minute runtime. I never felt bored, but I was a little shocked at the revelations about the movie’s characters and the actions they are willing to take for such small stakes. Bullying is wrong, and one shouldn’t forget that. Ma earns the Not a Total Waste of Time rating but manages to lean into a bit of the Decent Watch territory.

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