Review: Ma

Not my favorite movie in the horror/thriller genre to be released over the past few years, but that’s also becoming an increasingly more difficult category to compete in (Get Out, It, A Quiet Place, Hereditary, Halloween, etc.). Ma is good and it has many strong film narrative elements, but unfortunately I think that a couple of them were just misplaced throughout, specifically the structure, scenes, and some visuals. If you are a true horror fan, this movie may disappoint a little as a whole, but I am still recommending that you go see it and decide for yourself because as a semi-horror fan I did enjoy it. And Octavia Spencer was phenomenal!!! But I’ll get around to that in a bit, first I wanna drop a sick beat alongside my synopsis (boom, pop, boom, boom, pop…).

<<Kids are increasingly wild these days, disrespect and attitude fall on most résumés;
The high-schoolers in this film come and talk a big game, but when s*** hits the fan they got nobody else to blame;
Looking to get down, hang out, and have fun, they ask a local lady to buy them some cold ones;
Her answer is sure, not just once but twice, and on top of buying booze she gives them advice;
“Follow me to my place to have a good time, I live way out of town but I hope you don’t mind;
I got a cool basement and it’s safer than the city, oh wait I forgot to mention that I’m also SUPER CRAZY.”>> -Beats and Lyrics by Red Beard Movie Reviews ©

……I’ll stick to writing reviews, dropping sick beats isn’t my forte (yet). Anyway, this film is directed by Tate Taylor (The Girl on the Train, The Help) and like I said, has a lot going for it. As I was saying before, Octavia Spencer (also in The Help, but more recently also The Shape of Water and Hidden Figures) puts on quite a thrilling performance as Sue Ann (Ma). She jumps back and forth over the crazy line like it’s a schoolyard game. But she was not the only standout in this movie because Diana Silvers makes another appearance after also starring in a smaller role in my previous theatre venture, Booksmart. She played her scenes well in Booksmart but she occupied much more screen time in Ma and acted like she’s been around Hollywood for a decade (only two years actually…she’s only 21). But there is more to a movie than just convincing acting.
For reference, there are several key elements in telling a good story, namely setting, plot, characters, conflict, and resolution. In film, there are even more elements that we want and have come to expect heightened for our experience, like scenes, dialogue, music (score), and visuals (cinematography). In the horror/thriller genre, viewers are also looking for suspense, violence, and a sense of dread. And a good horror or thriller will add in even more elements such as an emotional connection to the villain, tapping into childhood experiences/traumas, and isolating the characters. So in all, when you sit down to watch a movie like Ma, whether it’s at the front of your mind or not, literature, Hollywood, and history have taught us to want to see the majority of these elements on screen, and that can often be a large reason why we will walk out of a theatre feeling excitement or disappointment. A movie either meets these underlying expectations or it doesn’t. So when I say that Ma misplaces a few of these elements, I mean that they are still present in the movie, but I think that they could have been used more effectively, because I wasn’t quite excited walking out after…more thankful or satisfied.
What caused this most was the sequencing of scenes. And maybe it comes from watching too many great horror/thriller movies because now my expectation is set to a higher bar. Leaving the movie, I just couldn’t help but think that it could have soared in suspense and fear if they had saved some of the explanations for the climax instead of sprinkling them in during the building terror. Ma was enough of an intriguing character apart from her past that I didn’t think it was necessary to explain away her actions every time. This also caused the movie to feel less put-together and more fractured. The camerawork and look of the movie were great, and again there are a few things I wish would have been changed, specifically providing more lingering moments and panning around the house to experience more of what Ma’s world meant to her. I don’t want to come across as snooty (I always think of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when I use that word), I know I couldn’t shoot this movie anywhere near the height it reaches, but these are just a few things that separate good films from great films.
And there it is, probably having lost most readers somewhere around the second line of my “rap-nopsis” 🙂 Octavia could very well move from her nominations for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in 2017 and 2018 to the leading lady nomination at the next Academy Awards. She was that good. And maybe her performance is enough to warrant a watch, I just think it might be. If you take the opportunity to go see Ma in theatres, let me know what you thought of the movie! I’ve had a lot of thoughts about films come to me by means of everyday conversation more often than in the comments section below, but hey to each their own. Thanks for reading, cheers!

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