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‘Ma’ Review: Octavia Spencer Shines in Entertaining Thriller

Garnering 3 Oscar nominations during this decade, Octavia Spencer has become one of the most acclaimed actresses in the industry. Typically showcasing her work in acclaimed awards-contenders, Spencer is thankfully changing it up with Ma. Casting her in the role of a horror villain, the film succeeds at offering entertainment value despite its problems.

Ma follows a group of teenagers who ask a stranger to purchase them alcohol one day. That stranger is Sue Ann (Spencer), and due to an odd connection she has with the teens, she begins to have them over for wild parties. All is clearly not it seems with Sue Ann though, as her true intentions quickly reveal themselves.

Ma relies on its star and playfully absurd tone to deliver to the audience. While the film struggles in certain areas, it offers some unique joys to the horror genre.

Octavia Spencer relishes the opportunity to play a horror villain, driving the film forward with her dynamic performance. She fully descends into the madness of Sue Ann, selling the character’s cloying and obsessive tendencies with creepy and often humorous results. Her dedicated turn is what keeps the audience engaged even when the rest of the film is faltering.

Similar to The Intruder earlier this year, Ma is a horror-thriller that thrives with its comedic aspects. Writer Scotty Landes creates some wonderfully bizarre situations (Ma dancing to Earth Wind & Fire), that are unabashedly over-the-top and entertaining. I also appreciate the film for trying to give its central character purpose, with flashbacks effectively showing the painful truth behind Ma’s actions.

While Ma certainly entertains, it doesn’t exactly leave on the edge of its seat. Landes script creates a slow-burn of sorts that spirals into insanity with its final third. Part of the problem is director Tate Taylor, who while offering a solid effort, isn’t able to push the film enough in its horror elements despite garnering an R-rating. Lacking visual spark or tension, the film sadly won’t leave many audiences unnerved by the experience.

That being said, I had a fun time with Ma, with Spencer’s dedicated lead performance offering unabashed camp value throughout.

Grade: B- 

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