Even though it’s one of the most anticipated horror films of 2019, seeing Tate Taylor’s name as writer/director brings the expectation of unrealized potential.
And as with “Get On Up” and “The Help,” Taylor once again drops the ball with “Ma.” Though the film had all of the elements of an enjoyable teen scream thriller, Taylor’s docile storytelling and creation of sacred cows kill any thrill. But even with its lack of horror and limited gore, Taylor shows that he has improved as a director with respect to timing and predictability.
Octavia Spencer stars as “Ma” in the title role. By day she is Sue Ann, an unassuming veterinary assistant with a mundane life. By night she is Ma, a middle-aged woman who looks to high-schoolers for companionship. Friendships derail when the Ma’s personality ticks – that border obsessive and deranged – are exposed to the group of teens that initiate the friendship without knowing the baggage that Ma carries because of traumatic experiences.
Though the format of the revenge-style film is nothing new, the twists and turns Taylor takes through a united suspicion of Ma makes for hilarious moments of comedy and suspense.
But the brilliant movie that “Ma” could have been falls quickly by the wayside as the movie drags and drags – almost turning into a melodrama – as audiences wait for the action to kick in.
Even for a predictable, unrealistic scary film, fans are asked to have too much imagination as to Ma’s powers of persuasion as she attempts to be a part of an “in” crowd 30 years her senior. Screenwriter Scotty Landes nailed the wit and humor of Ma and the entire ensemble of teens. However, the suspense believability elements are blah at best.
The performances – and their ability to make the most of the paltry storyline – deserve at least a mention during award season for their ability to hold the movie together. Juliette Lewis enters a new phase in her career as the single mother forced to work as a cocktail waitress. Twenty years ago, she would have been one of the cadre of delinquents, which worked in her favor as the understanding, yet stern mother. And Luke Evans is delightfully nasty as a jerk of a father who still cares enough for his son to confront Ma for the inappropriateness of her relationship.
Spencer is absolutely perfect in the role of “Ma.” She seamlessly takes the viewer through every range of emotion from empathy to lust and blind rage. The performance is so compelling that the terrible wigs Spencer is subjected to as Ma seem as if they are a part of the delusion.
It’s no wonder Taylor looked to Spencer again for one of his films. She captured the Academy Award for her performance in “The Help.” Had “Ma” been a better movie, she would have scored yet another nod.
The Academy won’t look past the film’s imperfections – most glaringly is the establishment and commitment to far too many sacred cows within the film that is supposed to be a terrifyingly gory and bloody.
Audiences will probably be more forgiving of the film because of its comic relief and suspenseful timing – even if the suspense ultimately makes for an unsatisfying finish.
Ma opens in theatres nationwide on Friday, May 31. The film is rated R with a running time of 99 minutes.