Film Review - Ma

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Octavia Spencer in a scene from “Ma.”

By Jason Guyer

Blumhouse Productions has been the savior of the horror film franchise. This isn’t hard to argue as the production company has produced films such as “Get Out,” “Us,” “Insidious,” “Split,” “The Purge,” “Happy Death Day,” “Upgrade,” “Sinister,” “Paranormal Activity” over the past few years. The newest Blumhouse product to make that list is the Octavia Spencer led “Ma.”

Spencer plays Sue Ann “Ma” Ellington. Ma is a lonely middle-aged woman who befriends some teenagers, and she is not you average Ma. When Ma decides to let the kids party in the basement of her home, she sets some ground rules. One of the kids has to stay sober. Don’t curse and never go upstairs. The final rule is the kids must also refer to her as Ma, hence the films title.

Ma’s hospitality begins to turn into obsession and as the kids start to notice they start to pull back from hanging out with Ma. What began as a teenage dream soon becomes a nightmare for the group of high school kids and then Ma’s place goes from the best place in town to the worst place on Earth, sending Sue Ann “Ma” Ellington into an obsessive, vindictive and extremely creepy downward spiral that leads to torture and murder.

Octavia Spencer is the star of this blumhouse show and is the best part of the “Ma” filmgoing experience. Spencer brings the creep factor to “Ma” and never lets go of it. Spencer’s Ma is creepy to the audience from her first scene. The only ones who seem not to notice Ma’s behavior are the unsuspecting teens who seemingly are only worried about partying.

Spencer at first uses subtlety to spook the audience, delivering a blood-curdling glance here or a spine-chilling smile there. The more the Ma character starts to unravel, the less subtle theses acts become. This is where Ocatavia Spencer excels, the transitions from subtle and creepy to over the top and terrifying. Spencer’s creep factor culminates in a torture scene that would make Takashi Miike and his film “Audition” proud.

The downfall for Ocatavia Spencer is that “Ma” comes directly on the heals of the film “Greta.” In “Greta” Isabelle Huppert plays the aforementioned Greta, a character another creepy obsessive character. Huppert also does a far superior job in this type of role than does Spencer.

The films will draw natural comparisons as they are similar enough in premise and even more similar in the obsessive nature of their murderous and torturous antagonists. In “Greta” the protagonist is also played in a superior fashion by the personable Chloe Grace Moretz. “Ma’s” protagonist, Maggie Thompson is played by Diana Silvers.

Silvers may best be known as the cheerleading girl from the M. Night Shyamalan film “Glass.” “Ma” is only her third film role and it isn’t even her best film this month. Silvers turn as Hope in the exceptionally well done “Booksmart.”

In “Ma” Silvers feels clunky and too smart for the role of unsuspecting teenager. She always feels out of place and above the situation her character is placed in. Silvers does fine in her role, but as an actor there are very few challenges put in her way. The character emphasis is always placed on Spencer’s Ma.

The mistake Blumhouse makes with both Silver and Spencer is the slow pace at which the characters and their relationship develops. The audience is treated to a rather boring first half of the film and by the end the payoff is not worth it.

Blumhouse uses the payoff technique far too often in the horror films it makes. “Paranormal Activity” was the worst at it, as the entire film was boring until the last two minutes. “Ma” uses a similar tack as it lulls you into this bored despondency until it comes out aggressively swinging with murder and torture.

I am not a fan of boring the audience, especially in a horror film but at least give the audience enough glimpses into terror or horror in the first half to warrant sticking until the end. Blumhouse, even with its faults, saw a star in Octavia Spencer. She most certainly is one in ‘Ma,” but the slow paced story and underwhelming acting around Spencer hinders just how good she could have been. Spencer does the thing Blumhouse wanted her to do and that is be the star of the film.

“Ma” in my opinion is not worth the investment of time. If you want this style of film, there is a better version out in the film “Greta,” and it is cheaper to rent “Greta” than to see “Ma” in the theater. “Ma” will be a wonderful addition to any horror-afiçionado film collection, but I am not sure if it goes beyond that. “Ma” just doesn’t scare up enough interest beyond being a one time watch.


Jason Guyer is an avid moviegoer and works in the graphics department at the Eagle Times. For questions or comments he can be emailed at

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