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Warning! The following contains spoilers regarding Ma. Read at your own risk!
As I drove to the theater for my screening of Ma, I was half regretting my decision to attend. Sunday nights are for relaxing, and seeing a horror movie in which a woman befriends and then torments teenagers didn't seem like a calm and relaxing way to prepare for the work week ahead.
As it turns out, I was completely wrong. Ma is the hardest I've laughed in a theater in some time, and though I still have yet to see Booksmart, it may be one of the funniest movies I've seen in 2019. Unfortunately, that's probably not really the point of the movie, which was billed and presented itself as a horror movie. So, why then was I laughing as opposed to jumping out of my theater seat? Let's dive in.
Ma Is An Objectively Hilarious Character
Ma does a solid job of making Sue Ann appear unhinged, and the story of how she got to where she is laid all that out perfectly. Where it struggles, however, is that her more manic moments in the film portray her less as a frightening sociopath and more of a somewhat hilarious individual. Whether she unexpectedly pulled a gun on a teen or karate kicked a pile of beer cans over, I was laughing.
For what it's worth, I think this is more a product of the film's tone and story than anything related to Octavia Spencer. She did bring an intensity to the role I haven't seen in her past work, but those scenes lack the music or build up of tension needed to make those moments legitimately scary. Instead, there might be a chuckle or two as Ma frequently comes out of left field with some actions that come out of nowhere!
The Gore In Ma Is More Cartoonish Than Frightening
Just to get this out of the way right now, Ma is not a movie I would consider to be excessively gory. Most of the violence happens in the latter part of the feature, but hoo boy, when it arrives it really makes an entrance. Fans see a pretty brutal death to kick things up, and things really escalate from that point on.
As the header states though, it's not at all scary. One death feels straight up like something out of a Final Destination movie, and the rest are weird, but almost cartoonish in how they go down. Those who haven't seen the movie need only wait until the final scenes of Ma to understand. It's necessarily as weird as the paint scene (you'll know when you watch), but just an odd display of violence when things seemed more grounded before.
The Teens In Ma Aren't Sympathetic And Make Terrible Decisions
One thing that makes Ma especially funny to me was the lack of emotion I felt towards the teenage cast, who also somehow fell below the standard for teens that make bad decisions in horror films. Like, it's one thing to do the stereotypical trope of running upstairs when being chased by a mass murderer, but these characters do that equivalent while adding "don't forget your knife!" on the way up.
Now, that situation doesn't literally happen, but it might as well have as it's pretty clear from the get go that Sue Ann is bad news. Yet they continue to show up at her house, which can certainly make the audience feel more like "well that's what you get" rather than, "oh poor kids." It also doesn't help that we only the smallest details about each character, which in turn could leave folks largely unaffected by what happens to them.
Ma Has A Good Deal Of Seemingly Intentional Humor
For all the moments in Ma that are unintentionally funny, there are some moments that were brought in, I'm assuming, to lighten the mood with some actual humor. At least, that's what we can assume when it comes to Allison Janney's Dr. Brown, whose sole purpose throughout the movie is to be on Sue Ann's ass whenever she's slacking off on the job.
Another bizarre character was Dominic Burgess' Stu, a relatively minor character with a performance that really sticks out and makes you think he has a larger part to play. Alas he doesn't, although the effort he put into the role really has me wondering if he maybe had more scenes that were cut later in development? Whatever the case, characters like this elevate the humor exponentially, but drastically reduce the creepiness and horror elements.
Ma's Ending Is Just So Damn Bizarre
Massive spoiler warning for those that don't want to know the ending of the movie. You've been warned! Sue Ann/Ma ends up drugging all the teens and keeping them in their basement, and after some unique punishments for most of the characters, Maggie's mom Erica arrives with Stu and the house goes up in flames. Maggie stabs Ma in order to rescue Ma's secret daughter (which is the twist I'm assuming promotions are touting).
Ma is stabbed and everybody else escapes and chills in the front yard in shock of what all happened. Meanwhile, Ma comes to in the burning house and casually watches everyone from the window of her living room. Again, the house is on fire, but she decides to head upstairs, curl up in bed with the dead man that orchestrated her sexual assault when she was younger and wait for the flames to take her. Fade to black, credits roll.
There's no resolution and no falling action; Ma just dips in its most pivotal scene like it has somewhere to be. It's arguably the most hilarious part of the movie, because we're left to wonder what the hell happens in the minutes that follow. Alas, it's an answer that may only come if Ma 2 gets made, which I'd honestly be on board with. Let Ma escape and bump the camp up even further in a sequel, and I'm 100% there.
Ma is currently in theaters right now for those who haven't seen it yet. Those that have can feel free to share their thoughts in the comments, and let us know if they'd be up for Ma 2.