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Ma: A Waste of Octavia Spencer’s Talent

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  • Tate Taylor
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Ma: A Waste of Octavia Spencer’s Talent

Writing a paper an hour before the deadline usually means stuffing sophisticated words in to reach the word count; consequently, instead of sounding sophisticated, you just sound confused. Similarly, Ma is a very confused (and confusing) film.

Ma follows lonely veterinary assistant Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) as she runs into newcomer to town Maggie (Diana Silvers) and her teenage group of friends who ask her to buy them alcohol. After an initial dismissal, Sue Ann agrees and even invites the kids to “safely” drink in her basement. With one party after another in Sue Ann’s basement (or Ma, as she urged them to call her), Maggie and her friends start realising that there is something off about their host.

The initial concept of the plot seems promising, but as the events unfold, anyone could easily tell that the film is confused. There are a series of unfinished thoughts and incomplete themes, from an underlying racial dynamic to a full backstory of the main character.

Parts of Ma’s background, and why she became the person she is, are explained and shown through flashbacks; however, other parts of her background are mentioned through vague lines, and through small hints that lead audience nowhere.

The background story also seems like a puzzle with too many missing pieces, which is specifically problematic because no explanation is provided as to why Sue Ann jumps from being a sweet child in the past to becoming a psychopath in the present. Indeed, without adequate context being offered for this transformation, the character seems more and more unreal. Despite these major flaws in characterisation, Ma was actually the most realistic character in the film, with all other characters being two dimensional, cardboard versions of what a film character should be.

As for the plot, the film’s barely escalating nature of events made Ma’s second act quite disappointing. The flow was also problematic, with all the real action – and the most thrilling part of the movie – mostly being reserved for the last 15 minutes; during these 15 minutes, the film gets creative, but not necessarily exceptionally scary.

For the acting, Octavia Spencer’s performance is what makes this film watchable, and it was fascinating to observe her facial expressions. Spencer expresses one emotion and then moves on to expressing a wildly different emotion in a heartbeat. Diana Silvers was supposedly playing somewhat of a main character, but her performance failed to have her character stand out enough to be given the title of “protagonist”. Instead, Silvers’ performance was mediocre and cliché, which made her blend into the two-dimensionality of the remainder of the supporting characters and the actors who played them.

Ma is not a complete disaster of a thriller, and there is a big chance you will enjoy it; it’s honestly just such a shame to waste Octavia Spencer’s talents on such a confused film.

Like This? Try

Room (2015), The Roommate (2011), Monster (2003).

360 Tip

In one scene Erica (Juliette Lewis) mentions that she is having a John Hughes movie marathon. Lewis had a part in a movie written by John Hughes, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) where she played Audrey.

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