Directed by Tate Taylor, ‘Ma’ is a psychological horror film. It checks all the boxes for fans of the genre looking for something fun and thrilling. The movie stars Octavia Spencer, Juliette Lewis, Diana Silvers, Corey Fogelmanis and Luke Evans.

With a runtime of 100 minutes, ‘Ma’ touches on themes of bullying and abuse and is rated NC16 due to some quite gory scenes.

Here’s the trailer:

The plot

The story basically revolves around a group of high school teenagers who befriends a seemingly harmless and lonely middle-aged woman, Sue Ann (Spencer), to buy them alcohol. Here, you can already start spotting dark glimpses of Sue Ann’s strangeness. Things quickly become more bizarre when Sue Ann invites them to bring their drinking parties to her basement, which she also joins in like an adult who clearly missed out on parties back in her teens. She even tells them to call her ‘Ma’ and never go upstairs, or as she calls it “her world”.

Flashbacks of her being bullied and ostracised in high school are revealed at different points throughout the movie. Eventually, the kids get weirded out by her behaviour (that only gets more and more unhinged from there) and stop hanging out with her. As a result, she gets mad and needy to the point of stalkery, which doesn’t help the situation at all. In the end, things get bloody very fast, spilling dark secrets of not just Sue Ann’s but also her targets’.

The takeaway (spoilers ahead)

While ‘Ma’ explores themes of bullying and abuse with even some racial undertones, it doesn’t go beyond the surface. It merely puts them on display where you can see but can’t touch. Instead, you’re left on your own wondering what it could feel like before the film throws you into the next WTF moment.

Movies like that usually frustrate me but not ‘Ma’. Even though the ending made me snort laugh, I walked out of the cinema entertained and satisfied. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the most brilliant film out there, but it’s still definitely smart in some ways.

Bullying is clearly the main theme: Sue Ann, seemingly the only African American student, was mercilessly bullied in high school by her peers before she grew up and plotted her revenge as soon as the opportunity arose. In a messed-up way, Sue Ann did what anyone in that situation wants to do and that is to stand up to their bullies. But clearly something went very wrong for Sue Ann as it drove her insane to the point of murdering her bullies. This is what the film does; it makes you believe that Sue Ann is a crazy weirdo but in the next minute shoves this sympathetic backstory in your face, leaving you to consider the small possibility that her killings may be justified. And that’s where the conversation leads to the deeply unsettling question of ‘Where do you draw the line?’ Of course the line is not to murder, but welp, Sue Ann’s gone way past that and she didn’t turn back.

The topic of abuse goes hand in hand with the bullying story. Sue Ann suffered psychological abuse throughout her teenage years and from the way the film portrays it, it seems like she was the only African American student in the school at the time and her abusive peers were all Caucasians.

Here’s where the racial issue comes in and it’s again highlighted when adult Sue Ann gets agitated after one of the kids Darrell (Dante Brown) made a light-hearted joke about their common ethnicity. If I remember correctly, it happened twice and both times were so awkward and cringey. Awkward because Sue Ann’s knee-jerk reaction showed that she’s either just traumatised from her painful school memories or still having self-identity issues (i.e. being comfortable in her own race), which could realistically stem from the bullying. Yup, that’s a lot of layers to a character!

But the film doesn’t stop there as the theme of abuse is explored in a second way. Sue Ann is later revealed to harbour another dark secret: her daughter. Introduced at the start of the movie, Maggie (Silvers) helped wheelchair-bound Genie (Tanyell Waivers) who was having trouble going up a ramp in school. Genie was only revealed to be Sue Ann’s daughter later in the movie. Not only that, she was not even actually handicapped to begin with. The shocker is that Sue Ann had been claiming her as one, keeping her hidden at home a lot and even feeding her some medicine of sorts, claiming to protect her from hypothetical school bullies. In another of abuse, the trauma from her past was now being unfairly transferred to her own daughter.

This reminds me of the Dee Dee Blanchard murder back in 2015. Blanchard was a single mother who claimed that her daughter Gypsy had various health issues and took advantage of it to basically live off on public assistance and child support payments. According to reports, Blanchard seems just as psychologically unstable as Sue Ann though in a different way and has no known past of being bullied.

It was interesting how the line “we were just kids!” was brought up in the film, making you almost feel sorry for Sue Ann’s bullies. But bullying is bullying and it hurts. It makes a psychological impact that if a person isn’t able to handle it over time, it can drive them to do extreme things.

The film may merely touch the surface with all these important issues without so much of educating its audience, but it does shine a harsh spotlight on bullying and so-called “harmless kiddish teasing”.

And perhaps most importantly, it also opens up conversations about mental health (particularly women and mothers) and the much needed dialogue on how to take care of it before it’s too late.

TL;DR

The Good
– Great overall story pace
– Legit creepy moments and jump scare
– Straightforward and gripping story that’s easy to follow
– Octavia Spencer is amazing at playing a crazy killer who still seems like a harmless friendly lady

The Bad
– While the character development for Sue Ann is fantastic, the other main characters are mostly flat with developments I don’t particularly care about
– The cheesy ending

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