Ma should've invited the writers over to her place for writing lessons. C'mon! Nearly every film is letting me down this year massively! Oh Tate Taylor. How far you have fallen since 'The Help'. What could've been an outlandish psychological thriller, fully realising its ludicrous premise, turns out to be a shambolic mess. Literarily, tonally, and dramatically speaking, nearly every aspect failed to glue together. All thanks to Landes and Taylor's utterly atrocious screenplay. What should've been a powerful adhesive is in fact a weak Pritt Stick that Ma uses to glue down her cutesy little photo album with. A group of friends just want to drink and smoke in private, to which they encounter "Ma" who allows them to use her basement. But Ma isn't all that innocent, and hides a sinister objective that would threaten the lives of everyone.
Octavia Spencer singlehandedly carried this entire "thriller" with her central antagonistic performance. The perfect balance of infectious fun, psychological deterioration and straight up bat *beep* crazy. She is able to turn from pleasant to creepy in just a second, and I for one had fun watching her in this type of role (I felt like she had fun too). An absolute travesty though that she is given toilet paper for a script and has to overwork it to deliver something remotely thrilling.
The dialogue was unnatural. It's the best description I have! These friends talk like robots and exhume no real personalities. Example (and I'm para-phrasing): "will you go out with me?", "sure. Why did it take you this long to ask?", "I didn't know to do it over text or in person!", "couldn't you tell I've been obsessed with you?", "now we're in love.". No one speaks like this. I get it, Taylor is moving things along at a rapid pace because let's be honest, no one cares for these students. But establishing a yawn-worthy romance for the sake of inserting stakes into this thriller, just seems pointless. If we didn't care for them to start with, hell, we shan't be caring for them now.
The vast amount of clichés that are found in nearly every stalker film, are certainly utilised here. An incalculable amount of text messages in four seconds. Using social media to research these victims. Staring blankly out of the window because psycho woman is psychotic. And my personal favourite, predictably fractured family dynamics. Honestly, some of the weirdest family dynamics/relationships I've ever seen in film. Take Maggie and her mother. They talk as if they've never met before! Establishing their current work/school situation in the first five minutes, arguing and laughing together in the same conversation, never going to music festivals! It's so bizarre that I was left perplexed with these dialogue exchanges. Oh, and don't get me started on Genie. The most obvious plot device I've seen from a low-budget mainstream horror.
Tonally, the film didn't work. It attempts to merge horror thrills with a light comedic undertone, which certainly had audiences in my cinema laughing, but left me irked. It was too forced, and again honing in on this idea of unnatural dynamics. Running over a jogger (great scene by the way) to then play a cheesy pop song isn't funny. It diminishes the impact of the thrills that Taylor had tried to plant.
The acting, aside from Spencer and Evans (whenever on screen), was mediocre. The student actors look well over twenty. Evans, Pyle and Janney were all wasted. The film fortunately realises its premise in the last ten minutes, from ironing a stomach to sewing a mouth shut, but it's a little too late. The boredom had already crept in. Oh and finally, the scene with the prosthetic penis? Hilariously bad. Pretty sure I could see the plastic from my seat (and I wasn't particularly close).
So yes, Ma is yet another disappointment from 2019. Not realising its hardcore outlandish premise was the biggest crime, the shoddy screenplay was the icing on the mouldy cake. Atleast Ma can throw a damn decent party, minus those famous Spencer death stares...