Ma does manage to boast one particular moment of knee knocking body horror
Undertaking a style looking to join horror and thriller, largely for a teen audience, Ma takes the lives of young American high school students, offers them a dream, and snaps it back in the most callous and vicious of ways. Far more methodical than it first seems, Ma has a very rigid plan, and to play that out, it needs all of its pieces in the correct places, often to the detriment of its own peak enjoyment levels.
Maggie (Diana Silvers) moves to her Mother’s hometown when her parents break up, changing high school and friendship groups. Falling for fellow student Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), the pair form a relationship inside the group of now 6. However, desperate to live above their age, the group wait outside convenience stores, hoping a passer by will take their money and buy them alcohol. Eventually, after little luck, Sue-Ann (Octavia Spencer) takes pity on them, offering a place to drink as well as the alcohol. Snapping her hand off, the group follow her home, with the situation quickly rising in both stature and mystery.
Ma is particularly held back by its teen focus and young-centric story line. Not that the acting comes out sub-par, but the habit of films with groups of teenagers, almost always revolves around the same, wanting to be more mature, theming. This lends itself nicely to comedies and features with less serious notions, but not to something as engaging as Ma. The film is desperate to be liked, but also needs that younger, more socially aware side to its drama. It works well, but only as smoothly as something of such a nature actually could.
Octavia Spencer shows exactly how versatile she is, offering one of the most standalone ‘creepy’ performances of the year, revealing her character with astute pace and quality, something often reserved for long running television programmes. She pairs well with the young group, and director Tate Taylor fully understands how to make Ma work, exactly as the feature that it is.
Perhaps light on the horror, with essentially no fear bar the final ten minutes, what it does do, it does well, and Ma does manage to boast one particular moment of knee knocking body horror, a stark difference to the rest of the film. The lack of perceived fear for much of the run time positions the picture for a genuinely terrifying final act, and truly one of the greatest pure horror moments of the year.
Suffering from its own flawed nature, Ma is a film with a surprisingly appealing story, and one that seems at least somewhat fresh. But getting completely past the teen horror positioning was impossible, and that puts Ma in a bracket it has perhaps earned the right to not be categorised in.
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