A horror movie that cleverly inverts one or two tropes of the genre, we ultimately feel Ma is less than the sum of its parts, but worth a look nonetheless.
Director Tate Taylor is clearly very good with actors, and every performance here is pitched well, but he doesn’t have such an aptitude for building tension or developing psychological creepiness. The writing doesn’t help him – while Mike insists that the film’s premise is full of potential, it’s not built upon very successfully. But Octavia Spencer is brilliant as the central villain, eliciting laughs and jumps at will, and her Ma is an engrossing character, if a bit reliant on cliché.
José points out the film’s concentration on women, male characters being secondary, and its interesting inversions of gender tropes, in particular a very male gaze: the objects of desire, men are disrobed and splayed out for Ma’s pleasure, and the camera doesn’t shy away from displaying them. Unfortunately, the film seems to have aimed for its 15 rating, sometimes appearing to edit around gore and explicit imagery rather than indulge in it, resulting in a somewhat disappointing feeling that it wants to be more graphic than it’s willing to be, to its detriment. One can’t shake the feeling that, for all Ma‘s boldness, there’s still a more visually expressive, confident film in here, itching to get out.
So it’s worth a look for the interesting way it deploys gender representation, and some wonderfully entertaining performances. Just don’t be disappointed if you’re a bit disappointed.
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With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.