Ma (1 star)

Ma

Octavia Spencer turns psycho in a shambolic chiller from Tate Taylor

Blumhouse Productions – home of low-budget horror (Paranormal Activity), more ambitious genre fare (Get Out) and the occasional critically acclaimed drama (BlacKkKlansman) – have a rare misfire on their hands with this disappointing psychological chiller, directed by The Help's Tate Taylor. On paper, it should have been an entertaining vehicle for regular Taylor collaborator and beloved character actress Octavia Spencer to get her teeth into but, in practice, it's something of a hot mess.

Diana Silvers (Booksmart) plays Maggie, a teenager who returns to the home town of her single mother (Juliette Lewis) and falls in with a group who spend each weekend in search of illicit booze and a place to party. When they meet easy-going veterinary assistant Sue Ann (Spencer, who also acts as executive producer), they're delighted when she both buys them alcohol and offers them her basement as a 'safe' place to party. However, they're unaware that 'Ma' (as Sue Ann insists they call her) is an obsessive, deeply unhinged psychopath.

The basic idea (Spencer as a villain) is solid, but the script overcomplicates things by giving Ma a revenge motive. That explains the presence of Lewis, and of Luke Evans – also playing a parent – but not of Allison Janney, who's saddled with the most thankless role imaginable as Sue Ann's boss.

Rather than offering a streamlined story about the kids trying to escape after being trapped in Ma's house (as the trailer promises), the script is all over the shop. There are scenes that seem to have been shuffled in the wrong order (one character exclaims, 'Look at this place!' on a repeat visit to Ma's basement, as if seeing it for the first time) and plot details that aren't consistent from one sequence to the next, such as Ma warning characters not to go upstairs, but not following through on her admonishment. Similarly, a number of key questions go unanswered, in frustrating fashion.

The biggest problem though is that Ma simply doesn't deliver anything approaching actual scares or tension. Indeed, if you've seen the trailer, you've already glimpsed its antagonist's worst excesses, which occur close to the end of the movie. In a film as potentially enjoyably trashy as this, you'd hope that Spencer would be the saving grace, but even she doesn't look like she's having much fun. Watching Ma, you'll know just how she feels.

General release from Fri 31 May.

Ma

  • 1 star
  • 2019
  • US
  • 1h 39min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Tate Taylor
  • Cast: Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis
  • UK release: 31 May 2019

A group of teenagers start doubting the intentions of a lonely woman who lets them have parties at her house.

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