When the trailer for Tate Taylor’s Ma was released, it was shaping up to be a thrilling film with a chilling performance from Octavia Spencer that would mark her first leading role. Everyone expected greatness from a seasoned director like Taylor, who’s directed great films such as The Help, The Girl on the Train and Get on Up. Instead of the great film audiences anticipated, Ma is a jumbled attempt at creating something scary — but to no avail.
The obvious great factor of the film is Spencer, an Academy Award and Golden Globe winner, who debuts in her first leading role with Ma. It’s unfortunate that the film wasn’t incredible, but Spencer still manages to create a great character with little help from the dialogue or storyline. Spencer positions her character, Sue Ann, to be someone the audience fears yet feels bad for and, at a few times, supports her decisions. The biggest piece Spencer brought to the puzzle is her facial expressions and body language. Even when Spencer isn’t speaking, the audience can absolutely tell without a doubt what she is feeling. Spencer truly makes something great out of nothing special in the film.
Recently, a large topic of conversation among actors, actresses, directors and other prominent people in the film industry is the necessity of diversifying Hollywood. The key is to bring diversity into Hollywood without tokenizing a person of color or an ethnicity that isn’t white. This brings up the point: How many times do you see a black female as the main antagonist in a film without race being a factor? Ma removes stereotypes and has Spencer acting as the main antagonist without her race being a factor or even being mentioned once in the film. It’s a nice change of pace in the age of diversifying Hollywood.
The biggest issue with Ma is the pacing. The film starts off slowly, with a few unnecessary jump scares to keep the audience guessing, so to speak, but then everything just happens at once in the final two scenes. The pacing of the storyline is very odd and ridiculously abrupt.
Part of the issue with the pacing was the film doesn’t really know what it wants to be. With jump scares, realistic car crashes and threats of cancer, aspects of Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy and then unnecessary scenes of body horror, it’s hard to tell exactly what Ma is going for. It’s also hard to tell whether or not the movie is self-aware of what it is or what it wants to be because the only indication is the music, which is all too absurd in context to be a coincidence.
Overall, Ma is definitely one you won’t be missing out on. With its inadequate dialogue, rough pacing and lack of terror in a thriller/psychological horror film, Ma isn’t Taylor’s best work. Spencer is truly the saving grace of the film, and without such a seasoned actress, Ma would’ve completely flopped.