Oh how I love a good psychological horror film. A Fatal Attraction type horror can either go really well or really poorly, as we’ve seen over the years. It’s great when you have a stellar lead performance along with a strong foundation (well written script and good pacing). Sometimes though, the foundation is a little rickety, so then it falls on the cast to save the, what would otherwise be forgettable, film. In Ma’s case, while the foundation isn’t terrible or anything, it’s not the best. Thankfully the performances here really swoop in and save this thing, Spencer’s in particular.
I was really excited as I headed into the theater to watch this. The trailers all looked really good and I loved the whole premise. The films starts out simply by introducing us to Diana Silvers character Maggie, who’s new in town, and a group of other high schoolers she befriends. This would be tedious if the characters sucked or if the actors gave poor performances, but here it’s quite the contrary. I really liked all the young actors and their characters. Sure there’s some high school stereotypes, but overall they’re interesting and really likable. Then we’re introduced to Octavia Spencer’s lead character Sue Anne. Right off the bat, Spencer’s performance is captivating. You can tell she’s having a ball with this bonkers role.
I love that she’s given multiple scenes to put her character’s craziness on display. The scenes between her and Luke Evans are some of the most effective. Evans’s character has a pretty pivotal role in Sue Anne’s backstory and it makes for an interesting plot point. Luke Evans is very good as Ben too. He’s good at playing these sexy but completely unlikable characters. Juliette Lewis plays Maggie’s mother and I like that she’s actually given a somewhat substantive role to play. The parents of these teenagers are important to the overall plot, I kind of thought from the trailer that they’d just be in a couple scenes to play “the parent” but they turn out to have a connection to Sue Anne.
The supporting teenage actors are really great too, including Gianni Paolo, Corey Fogelmanis, and McKaley Miller. Something that can be tough to do in a film with multiple characters is give them all enough screen time and attention. This is one of the things Ma gets right, it pays attention to each character and none of them feel like a waste. Well except for Missy Pile and Allison Janney, they really are just there to be expendable.
While Ma does feature a killer cast that it, for the most part, does take advantage of, there is one disappointing drawback. So one of the unfortunate mistakes made is the final act. Because of some uneven pacing, the final act feels weak and doesn’t pack as much of a punch as it could have. While there are some creepy things that go on as it’s wrapping up, it needed to be longer, too much time was spent on other things and not enough on the finale. That ends up being the biggest bummer here and I wish the writers would’ve come up with another draft that dedicated more time to a creepier, more effective ending.
One more aspect that I really liked was the flashbacks Sue Anne would occasionally have. These flashbacks helped explain why the teens parents were connected to her and they were all very well done. They added more substance and depth to the story. So overall, while I wish Ma had paid more attention to its pacing and laid out a more effective finale, it’s still a pretty entertaining watch. The cast members really do save this from being a forgettable venture into the horror genre.