Fans of the horror genre have been patient. There have been movies released throughout the year featuring the action, comedy, Gothic, invasion, psychological, science-fiction, slasher and survival subgenres that have boasted a big box office, but during the summer months, when the temperatures spike, offering a comfortable in-person experience to lose yourself on the big screen, where’s the pure horror film to get me into a movie theater? Ma lured me in… giving me a glimmer of hope that I’d be scared throughout its one-hour-and-39-minute run-time.
From the get-go, I wanted to see something genuine. Something different. Something that wasn’t poorly written. Something that wasn’t dumb. Something with good actors. For the most part, Director Tate Taylor brought all of that. If you’re like me and you prefer to see your movies as spoiler-free as possible, you do your absolute best to stay away from any pre-release online articles regarding a film that you’re looking forward to seeing. You don’t check in on any social media posts regarding it, as well. And for the most part, you try not to watch any trailers regarding said movie, as far as humanly possible. I had succeeded in all of those aspects, but when I arrived at the theater, I realized I didn’t know anything about Ma‘s director.
In case you might not recognize the name, Tate Taylor is most well known for bringing The Help and The Girl on the Train onto the big screen. Those aspects weren’t exactly reassuring to me as a moviegoer, but since I’d been thoroughly impressed with first-time directors of the genre in the past — sadly, I’ve been disappointed by most, to be honest — I was giving Ma the benefit of the doubt before casting any judgement.
In Ma, Octavia Spencer plays the role of the title character, also known to grown-ups as Sue Ann. She’s unhappy at her day job, working as a veterinary tech, but she begins to break out of her shell by inviting teenagers to party at her place, making sure to stock her basement with plenty of booze for the underage attendees. She gains the kids’ trust and predictably turns on them. There was a level of suspense that was heavily weighing down onto the main characters, but it took too long for the storyline to develop. For the first 30 to 45 minutes, I swore I was sitting in the wrong theater, as the movie felt more like an R-rated high-school comedy from the ’90s. The time was totally wasted as the writers, directors and all behind-the-scenes filmmakers were still trying to figure out how to describe the main character. She’s creepy, I’ll give ’em that much. Lotsa online stalking and investigating was involved to get these kids’ attention, so when the jump scares FINALLY arrive, I was excited to finally see a horror pic. Sadly, a few more jump scares later, then end credits began to roll. What kind of missed opportunity was this?
Ma tries hard to show the stages of a spurned high-school student falling into the depths of middle-age madness, as she plays the long game to get her revenge. It’s too bad the on-screen experience didn’t portray that. What is presented are flashbacks to tell the majority of the story in the vein of Us, which also had its storytelling problems. It felt jarring to go back and forth from bad writing to bad horror.
As a superfan of Jason Blum, I would love to see his Blumhouse Productions expand into different genres. While Blumhouse has been known for creating movies on a shoestring budget (Ma had a $5 million budget and will surely make a LOT of money), I’d like to see more PURE horror pictures from the studio. I really wanted Sue Ann already crazy from the start, not relying on jump scares to keep me interested until she finally arrived there. Jordan Peele has given the genre a shot of new blood, so to speak, introducing a whole new audience to horror, but Blumhouse also did that years ago, bringing Paranormal Activity to life in 2007. Spencer may may draw audiences into theaters this weekend, but Tate doesn’t add anything new to the genre.
In the near future, I foresee Ma airing at the beginning of basic cable horror movie marathons, when the genre gets the most focus on television: During Halloween. I’d hold off on seeing this one in theaters, as the only true scares you’ll get will involve how much time and money was spent, wasted on this film.