I tend to gravitate toward the exploitation and horror films of the 1970’s, when situations would make no sense in movies that couldn’t really be classified as anything other than weird. So it’s kind of my dream that a movie like Ma was made in 1974 by S. F. Brownrigg, because then the people next to me who were shocked by how strange it got would be absolutely horrified by just how out of control it could get. That said, by 2019 standards, this was a pretty fine film.
Maggie Thompson (Diane Silvers from Booksmart) and her mother Erica (Juliette Lewis, who has been dependably turning out character actor roles for the last few years) have moved back to Ohio after Erica abandons them. Maggie quickly makes new friends who do the only thing there is to do in a small town — drinks and drugs. Trust me — I grew up 15 minutes from Youngstown. All I did was sit in my room, watch horror movies and drink. Then again, that sounds like heaven, so I’m kind of glad I never had a circle of friends like the one in this film that would force me to go outside.
But I digress — the teens soon meet Sue Ann Ellington (Octavia Spencer, who pretty much makes this movie worth watching singlehandedly), a vet tech who they convince to buy them alcohol. Look for Allison Janney in a cameo as her boss.
Soon, they’re drinking in her basement, which becomes fully furnished over time and more popular with other students. That said, Ma is that special personality that wants more and more over time, leading the students to stop spending so much time with her, particularly after they suspect her of stealing jewelry and personal effects. And oh yeah — Ma has Munchausen syndrome by proxy and a young daughter named Genie who may or may not really need her wheelchair.
This is when we learn the real secret of Ma, Slaughter High-style. Back when Ma was just Sue Ann, she had been the shy kid who was the target of a cruel prank by the parents of the children she’s befriending today. She had been in love with Andy’s father Ben — played today by Luke Evans — but the group had switched him out for a geeky boy in a dark closet, making fun of her for giving him, shall we say, a little bit of neckboning.
Ma is driven over the edge now, murdering Ben’s girlfriend Mercedes with her car — a scene that caused gasps from the car next to us — as well as attacking Maggie’s dog and using its blood to replace Ben’s blood before slicing his wrists. I have no idea what that last one is about, but the scene of her holding his member and threatening to castrate him also upset people. This is where the film descends into madness and I, for one, could not have been happier.
Our villainous middle-aged woman then traps the entire group in the basement, forcing them all to endure a series of tortures, like sewing a girl’s mouth shut, ironing a boy’s abs and then painting the token black friend white, whispering, “They only need one of us.” Whew!
I don’t want to give away the final scene, but it was so perfect that I started laughing out loud, impressed with the audaciousness of the filmmakers. Well done!
Ma was made because of director Tate Taylor’s(The Help, Girl On the Train) desire to direct a film about “something fucked up.” After meeting with Spencer and learning that she was sick of the same roles and never getting to be a lead, he started looking for a project. Upon meeting with Jason Bloom, he read the Scotty Landes script for this film and decided to make the film.
Although the original script was written with a white woman — with no sympathy or back story — in the title role, Taylor immediately thought of Spencer for the role of Ma. He called her, asked if she wanted to be in a horror movie and she said yes without even reading the script.