Ma Review: Familiar story beats mixed with fresh performances
While there have been plenty of stalker flicks within the last couple of years, this year alone has had films like Greta and The Intruder, Blumhouse has just dropped one of their own with Ma. While it’s definitely treads on familiar ground, Ma is elevated by an excellent performances Octavia Spencer and a fun campy atmosphere that’s hard not to love.
The film follows Maggie (Diana Silvers), a teenage girl who has just moved to a small town with her mom (Juliette Lewis). Maggie quickly finds herself welcomed into a new group of friends and they quickly befriend a lonely woman, that goes by Ma (Spencer), after she buys them alcohol. While Ma seems harmless at first, with her inviting them to throw parties in her home, things quickly become creepy as her behavior becomes more erratic and she won’t leave them alone. Eventually Maggie attempts to break ties with Ma, but she soon finds out that Ma isn’t going anywhere, and this group of friends soon find out that there’s a strange connection between Ma and their parents that’s about to take a fatal turn.
It’s easy to come away from Ma and see it as familiar as the film doesn’t necessarily bring much new to the sub-genre of slasher flicks. Especially for the first third or so, I wasn’t really impressed with what the film was bringing, and it seemed like pretty standard fair. The kids first meet Ma and things seem normal, we see Ma stalk them on social media, and we see things escalate with Ma’s presence growing stronger even after they cut her off. Even the “past incident” that connects Ma and the teen’s parents is all too familiar. It leaves its impact and explains why Ma has this desire for revenge, but I wish it was played with a little more and built up her revenge rather than instantly spark a turn.
However, there’s a nice turn that begins to have Ma differentiate from the formula and allows the performances to elevate. Upon discovering new information about Ma, I could feel the film finally start to let loose and take a much more fun turn. Spencer’s performance is perfectly creepy, campy, and fun and she constantly ups the creep factor with each scene she’s in. Once the blood start pouring, Ma becomes incredibly fun to watch as her actions become tough not to cringe at and it’s not common that we see an antagonist like Ma in the genre. It’s rare to see Black women in the lead antagonist roles in horror, there’s even a great joke made later about race in horror by Spencer that I just loved, and Spencer does a great job showing why that should change.
The rest of the performances are solid, for the most part, with Silvers and Lewis being standouts. Silvers is a fun lead that’s strong and shown to vulnerable and Lewis puts in a nice performance as Maggie’s mom. The two have a strong chemistry and definitely have a very believable relationship. I will say that I wish Lewis had a stronger presence in the flashbacks so that the connection between her and Ma was more developed, but she has a strong enough presence to be impactful. She even has a great yelling monologue later in the film that felt realistic thanks to the strength of the dialogue between characters.
For the most part, the characters are written pretty well and come off as believable. I’m not going to say that they always say or do the smartest things, however, no one is fully blinded by Ma’s charm or doesn’t think that something is wrong with her. I will say that it is strange that the teens wouldn’t feel weirded out by Ma when, in literally one of the first encounters they have with her, she pulls a gun on one them as a prank. However, all of the believability ties back to Spencer’s performance and there are times where it’s understandable that they wouldn’t just alienate her right away. Even the adults don’t act completely clueless about Ma and it was interesting to see them confront her.
While Ma doesn’t necessarily break the mold of stalker flicks, Spencer and the rest of the cast give fresh enough performances to elevate familiar material. It’s definitely another strong outing for Blumhouse and has the thrills and chills not to disappoint.