Ma (15)

Horror (2019)
99mins US

Starring: Luke Evans, Diana Silvers, Octavia Spencer, Juliette Lewis
Director: Tate Taylor
Writer(s): Scotty Landes
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Teenager Maggie approaches local woman Sue Ann to buy alcohol for her underage classmates. Instead, Sue Ann invites Maggie and pals Haley, Darrell and Chaz to her large house to party in the basement. The youngsters seize the opportunity and are delighted by Sue Ann's hospitality. The owner has three rules: no-one is allowed upstairs in the main house, at least one of the group must stay sober and everyone should address her as "Ma".

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LondonNet Film Review
Ma (Cert)

A group of teens get an abject lesson in stranger danger when they approach a lonely woman to buy them alcohol, and end up bringing the contraband back to her basement. Undeterred by an unsettling incident involving firearms and male nudity, the group embrace "Ma" as the "cool mom" of every movie teen's dreams. A couple of jump cuts later and Ma's basement is inexplicably filled with inebriated, under-supervised juveniles, and more robot dancing than Peter Crouch's podcast...

Ma. Caption: Octavia Spencer as Sue Ann, Diana Silvers as Maggie and McKaley Miller as Haley in Ma, directed by Tate Taylor. Photo: Anna Kooris. Copyright: 2019 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.What ensues is a horror film for the post-Get Out era - Ma aims for fear by social awkwardness and comes complete with racial undertones, social media scare tactics and a somewhat botched anti-bullying message. It's gratifyingly bonkers. The set pieces are self-aware and schlocky, the third act features genuinely inventive nastiness, and Octavia Spencer oozes screen presence as the malevolent Ma. There's something quite Kathy-Bates-from-Misery in her ability to turn matronly into monstrous with a single swish of her frumpy overalls.

The surrounding cast try their hardest to keep up. Luke Evans brings trademark physicality, Juliette Lewis some much needed emotional heft and the criminally-underused Allison Janney channels her I, Tonya turn as a delightfully catty veterinarian. Unfortunately, the results are marred by plot holes you could drive a van through, decision-making that's dumb even by slasher standards, and a campy undertone that leaves you laughing when you should be screaming.

The script doesn't much concern itself with properly portraying high schoolers. "Let's get druuuunk," whoops Hailey, like no teenager ever, while a line about a bracelet is lifted - intentionally or otherwise - word-for-word from Mean Girls. Basil Exposition makes a few appearances ("you should have some of this punch that Ma made for Chaz's birthday, it's so good"), and if there's one thing psychological thrillers ought to do, it's show rather than tell. None of this would matter if Ma were scary. Things start out promisingly enough - a fridgeful of syringes, steely stares from the doorway, and things that go bump in an upstairs room - but the building anticipation gets lost amid flat-pack plotting and teen angst. When the film does grow teeth it grows them with gusto, and some of the grislier bits will have you wincing, but the tough stuff needs to be straighter and earlier to command any real malice.

Spencer's Ma is a tour de force of goggle-eyed strangeness, but has far too many zingers to be a serious villain. In Get Out we were laughing to escape our squirming, seething discomfort; in Ma we're just laughing. If you have a crippling fear of being Facebook stalked by crazy cat ladies, then Ma is the stuff of your nightmares. Otherwise it's faintly freaky, frequently funny, and fundamentally forgettable.

- Kim Hu

Ma. Caption: Octavia Spencer as Sue Ann and Luke Evans as Ben in Ma, directed by Tate Taylor. Photo: Anna Kooris. Copyright: 2019 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

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