THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
After seeing the trailer for this film in the cinema way back in 2019 while waiting for another film to start, it immediately went on my to watch list. However, after the pandemic closed all the cinemas, the 2 year long wait for it to come on Netflix was 100% not worth it.
Directed by Tate Taylor, created by Blumhouse Productions and staring Octavia Spencer, this movie had all the makings to be a creepy and thrilling ride. But the film seems to be over by the time it's only just begun.
After moving to a new town and in an effort to make friends, Maggie (played by Diana Silvers) befriends a lonely middle-aged woman, Sue Ann (Spencer) when her and her pals ask her to buy liquor for them. After a while, Sue Ann develops the nickname "Ma" and invites the teens back to her basement as a hang out space where there are only 2 rules : 1) don't go upstairs, and 2) do whatever Ma tells you.
It soon transpires that Sue Ann has a history with each of the teens parents, and is using them to relive the teenagerhood she longed for.
As a big fan of Octavia's work, I can't help get the sense that even she had higher hopes for this film, as she delivers an outstandingly unhinged performance. In addition, each of the parents turn out to be familiar faces, with cast members such as Luke Evens, Juliette Lewis and Allison Janney. But unfortunately, nothing can save this film from the fact that the story was under developed and (without wanting to be cruel) the teen actors were down right awful!
From the get go, the main character Maggie (Silvers) has all the likability of a wet blanket, and her gaggle of friends aren't much better. Maybe I'm reaching that age where I don't care about the same things that teens care about, but personally I was more interested in the back stories of the adult characters and what turned Sue Ann into such a twisted bitch. However this film seems to be made for the teens, as very little is included of the adults back story, including that of Sue Ann's.
Through flashbacks, we learn that Sue Ann was the victim of a mean prank that by todays standards would have been deemed sexual assault. however her back story never develops further than that, even though she mentions a husband that we never see and turns out to have a secret daughter who is locked in the upstairs of the house, with no real explanation as to why.
What disturbs me the most about this film is how quickly it can go from 1 to 100 and then back to 1 again. Like an unsatisfying yo-yo... In one scene we see a jock type character be made to strip naked at gunpoint by Ma who quite uncomfortably perves over his young body, before hysterically laughing and claiming it was a joke. In another we see how Ma is messaging the teens on social media claiming that she has cancer after they say they can't come over for the evening as it's "homework night".
The film builds (if you can really call it that) to a final scene where Ma has all the teens drugged and chained up in her basement where she proceeds to inflict individual punishments on each person. The Jock gets a hot iron pushed into his chest while the gossip girl of the group gets her lips sewn shut. She then paints the face of Darrell (played by Dante Brown) who is black white, declaring "they will only accept one of us".
While I'm sure this was indented to be a powerful political message about race, it isn't mentioned in the whole first hour and a quarter of the film and isn't a predominant theme within the story. So this statement seems not only to have come out of no where, but is a half hearted attempt to be seen as "woke" and politically active. Ultimately it just shows the film makers up for an attempt at jumping on the bandwagon of a really important political and cultural issue and totally devaluing the message.
As much as it pains me to say about anything associated with Octavia Spencer, this film was beyond disappointing. Hats off the the marketing department for this movie, as the trailer was more exciting. I think the reason this film was such a massive let down was because it had so much potential, especially considering that Taylor brought us such masterpieces as The Help and The Girl On The Train, but ultimately Ma never seemed to have developed past a first draft.
My advice to anyone planning on watch Ma.... don't bother.