Ma

Ma

2019, R, 99 min. Directed by Tate Taylor. Starring Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Luke Evans, Missi Pyle, McKaley Miller, Juliette Lewis.

REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., May 31, 2019

In 2017, Blumhouse Productions changed the contemporary horror industry with the release and success of Jordan Peele’s Get Out. The impact was immediate: Producers realized that audiences were desperate for films that utilized the conventions of horror films to explore pervasive racism in America, and a new wave of modest studio horror went into production. This success helped set the stage for Ma, a film that looks to Hollywood’s past to capitalize on cinema’s present.

After her parents’ messy separation, Maggie (Booksmart's Silvers) moves back to her mother’s (Lewis) hometown to finish out high school. There she falls in with a group of friends who spend their weekends following a small-town tradition: driving around aimlessly and begging strangers to buy them beer. Finally, one does. Sue Ann (Spencer) quickly becomes a legend to local high schoolers  –  they christen her "Ma"  –  after she agrees to host their parties in her basement. Soon, however, the teenagers discover a darker and more obsessive side to their gracious host and learn that there’s more to Sue Ann’s history in this town than initially meets the eye.

On paper, Ma is meant to be a takedown of the pervasive racist "mammy" caricature in historical fiction. The identifying traits of that archetype  –  subservient, sexless, and apathetic toward the needs of their own families  –  are directly contrasted in Sue Ann, who feeds on her teenage trauma to facilitate her own agenda. It’s a tricky line for the film to walk. There are times when Spencer’s character feels less subversive and more like a gonzo Annie Wilkes from Misery; it’s clear that the filmmakers understand how to write Sue Ann in opposition to tropes, less clear that they know how to turn that into something meaningful.

This is where Spencer comes in. There’s never really any question as to where Ma is headed  –  hometown reunions often provide the lifeblood of the horror genre  – but Spencer pulls us through the necessary twists and turns through sheer force of will. Sue Ann is genuinely likable for much of the movie, and her moments of quiet reflection peppered throughout the film are almost enough to bring us over to her side – even when she pivots into her murderous rampage. Spencer is an undeniably warm screen presence, and her role in Ma seems positioned as an insult to her filmography as well, showing that she’s a more versatile performer than her roles in movies like The Help and The Shape of Water would have us believe. The cat-and-mouse game that unfolds between Sue Ann and Maggie may be nothing earth-shattering, but it’s also undeniably pulpy and plenty of fun for the B-movie crowd.

Much like Netflix’s recent release of The Perfection, Ma exists somewhere at the intersection of Lifetime Movie of the Week and revenge cinema. See this one with a crowd, and it will undoubtedly be one of the more memorable horror films of 2019. Just don’t pretend like Ma is quite as smart as it would like to be.

Showtimes

Cinemark 20 and XD

N. I-35 & FM 1825, 512/989-8535

Cost for 3-D and XD shows is regular ticket price plus a premium.

Tue., June 18

digital 12:30, 3:10, 5:50, 8:30, 11:00

Wed., June 19

digital 12:30, 3:10, 5:50, 8:30, 11:00

Cinemark Southpark Meadows

9900 S. I-35, 800/326-3264

Cost for 3-D shows is regular ticket price plus a $3.50 premium.

Tue., June 18

digital 9:55am, 12:30, 3:10, 5:35, 8:10, 10:40

Wed., June 19

digital 9:55am, 12:30, 3:10, 5:35, 8:10, 10:40

EVO Entertainment

3200 Kyle Crossing, Kyle, 512/523-9009, www.evo-entertainment.com

Tue., June 18

12:30, 3:15, 5:45, 8:15, 10:40

Wed., June 19

12:30, 3:15, 5:45, 8:15, 10:40

Galaxy Highland 10

6700 Middle Fiskville, 512/467-7305, www.galaxytheatres.com

No one under 18 will be allowed in the theatre on Friday or Saturday after 7pm without an adult.

Tue., June 18

10:30am, 1:15, 3:55, 6:45, 9:45

Wed., June 19

10:30am, 1:15, 3:55, 6:45, 9:45

Thu., June 20

10:30am, 1:15, 3:55

Metropolitan

901 Little Texas, 512/447-0101

Discounts daily before 6pm. Cost for 3-D shows is regular ticket price plus a $3.50 premium.

Tue., June 18

CC/DVS 12:00, 2:45, 5:20, 7:50, 10:30

Wed., June 19

CC/DVS 12:00, 2:45, 5:20, 7:50, 10:30

Thu., June 20

CC/DVS 12:00, 2:45, 5:20, 7:50, 10:30

Schulman Theatres Lost Pines 8

1600 Chestnut St, Bastrop, 512/321-0123, www.schulmantheatres.com

Tue., June 18

7:30, 10:15

Wed., June 19

7:30, 10:15

Starplex 12 San Marcos

1250 Wonder World Drive, San Marcos, 512/805-8000

Tue., June 18

3:15, 5:45, 8:15, 10:45

Wed., June 19

3:15, 5:45, 8:15, 10:45

Thu., June 20

3:15, 5:45, 8:15, 10:45

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Tate Taylor Films
The Girl on the Train
Another girl gone in this tedious adaptation

Kimberley Jones, Oct. 7, 2016

Get on Up
As James Brown, Chadwick Boseman captures the performer's voice, moves, sweat, and swagger, but this biopic, as a whole, needs a stronger compass.

William Goss, Aug. 1, 2014

More by Matthew Monagle
<i>Seadrift</i> Tells the Forgotten History of Vietnamese Americans in a Texas Town
Seadrift Tells the Forgotten History of Vietnamese Americans in a Texas Town
Austin director Tim Tsai shares a murder on the Gulf

June 14, 2019

Men in Black: International
The Men in Black stay thoroughly Earthbound in a sequel saved only by its stars

June 14, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Ma, Tate Taylor, Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Luke Evans, Missi Pyle, McKaley Miller, Juliette Lewis

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle