By David Dent
Blumhouse movies get a bit of a critical raw deal, mainly because of how safe they play things in the scare department. Nevertheless, I think history will be kind to their output; these films are well made, well-acted and, if not exactly original, rarely boring.
Ma, the latest Blumhouse offering, directed by Tate (The Girl on the Train) Taylor, is no exception to the rule. It’s a seemingly cautionary tale, with EC Comics flourishes, abut a group of kids in a small Ohio town; the latest to join their ranks is Maggie (Diana Silvers, very good in the recent Booksmart) who has returned to the place where her mother (Juliette Lewis, wasted) grew up. The teens are all bored and it isn’t long before Maggie joins in with their slightly delinquent japes, including standing outside the local liquor store, asking adults to buy booze for them.
Here they meet Su Ann (Octavia Spencer from Hidden Figures), a lonely woman who not only scores them the hooch, she also offers them a place to party away from the eyes of the local police force – namely her basement. Su Ann (who likes to be referred to as ‘Ma’) loves having the kids around, and after some initial trepidation, the whole gang gets on famously. But Ma has a dark side, including a back story that isn’t quite horrid enough to justify her mid-movie fruit loopiness, and access to various sedatives courtesy of her job at the local vets (her boss is Allison Janney, another waste of A list talent in a role that goes nowhere).
It’s not long before Ma shows her true colors – ie she’s not very nice and extremely handy with a syringe – and before you know it the teens are trapped in Su Ann’s house in a fight for their lives.
Ma is all a bit lukewarm and unsure of itself. Octavia Spencer is clearly having a good time but apart from her increasing potty mouth and occasional bouts of violence (one unlucky cuss is used as a human ironing board, for example), Su Ann could be played a lot more crazily. There are some nice subversive touches to the movie: I liked how the safe place in the house is the basement (the group have strict instructions not to go upstairs, in a twist on the usual house danger set up) and the low budget acts in the movie’s favor, focusing the action in a small area.
A bit of a wasted opportunity then, and the final reel pyrotechnics are far too calculated to be exciting. But y’ know it wasn’t bad, and it’s worth watching for Spencer.
Ma is out in cinemas now.