Ma is an interesting film: neither as frightening as the premise could make it nor as campy as the final product ended as. I was entertained and could even get a small vicarious thrill on this lurid story of revenge. It might not be a good movie but I cannot hold its almost wild nuttiness against it.
New girl Maggie (Diana Silvers) is attempting to fit in to her mom Erica's (Juliette Lewis) old hometown, where both have returned after Erica's marriage fell apart. As Erica works as a cocktail waitress, Maggie soon integrates into a clique headed by Haley (McKaley Miller) and her boyfriend Chaz (Gianni Paolo). Maggie and another member of this clique, Andy (Corey Fogelmanis) are clearly smitten with each other.
In an effort to get beer, they eventually find an adult: Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer), a veterinary assistant to Dr. Brooks (Allison Janney). Soon Sue Ann, who asks that the kids call her 'Ma' starts integrating herself in their lives, offering her basement for parties and even getting down with her bad self among them.
If one thinks the sight of a middle-aged woman partying with teens old enough to be her children is odd, you soon learn that there's a reason for it. Sue Ann happened to have attended high school with Andy's father Ben (Luke Evans), Ben's new girlfriend Mercedes (Missi Pyle) and Erica. The tangled web of the past soon starts affecting the next generation as Ma slowly loses grip on reality and enacts her vengeance for Ben's humiliation of Sue Ann back in the day. Things end in a fiery finale full of blood and gore and death.
Ma is not without some merits. As I mentioned there is a bit of a thrill seeing people bullied in high school enact sometimes murderous revenge on those who did them wrong. Whatever the morality of it, Mercedes' fate seems almost justified given what a horrible person she was then and remained as at the time she met her grisly end.
I do not remember being bullied in high school and never had as horrible a situation as that which Sue Ann went through. However, some of my high school memories were less than pleasant, and there is an odd sense of catharsis in seeing someone strike back at unredeemed tormentors who have never and would never apologize for their cruelty.
It's a credit to Spencer that she took the premise seriously and even made Sue Ann rather sympathetic while also loading up on the psycho. It's a very good performance of a needy woman who already had issues prior to her fateful encounter, but whom you see early on was slowly building to take advantage of teenagers to enact her wicked vengeance on their parents, the sins of the fathers coming upon their sons.
Spencer is the best in Ma, which is a shame given that the other adults did not quite match her. They weren't bad: Evans and Lewis did well but as their roles were smaller they were a bit diminished. Lewis probably fared worse as Erica's waitressing seemed to take time away from the larger story. She was however strong with Silvers' Maggie, a very low-rent version of Gilmore Girls where the mother-daughter dynamic was more besties than parental-child.
Janney, I suspect, was there as a favor for either screenwriter Scotty Landes or director Tate Taylor, a cameo more than anything else.
The young cast was essentially there to look hot, with Paolo at one point forced to show off his whole body to display how hot he was. To show how dumb these kids are, after this incident one would have figured Sue Ann was cray-cray, but it took a while for only Maggie to realize how dangerous Ma was. Even Andy, more rational than the rest, was clueless.
Ma is neither campy enough or scary enough to be a full-on hoot or a fright fest. I enjoyed it but know it isn't particularly good or that it could not have been more and/or better. Still, a little Ma goes a long way.