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Review: Ma – “Shocks and surprises and always catches you off-guard”

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Written by Scotty Landes (Workaholics) and directed by Tate Taylor (Winter’s Bone), Ma stars Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water), Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers), Luke Evans (No One Lives), Diana Silvers (Glass) and McKaley Miller (Hart of Dixie).

When the music career of her mum (Lewis) music stalls and she is forced to move back to the small town she grew up in and take a job in the casino to make ends meet, Maggie (Silvers) finds herself friendless at a new school. But one day she is befriended by Haley (Miller) and her gaggle of friends. There’s not a lot to do so the kids drive around looking for an adult to buy them booze and somewhere to party.

Their dreams are answered when they meet Sue Ann (Spencer), a lonely veterinary assistant who agrees to buy their beers and let them hang out in her basement to drink it. The kids are stoked, and Sue Ann – who they quickly nickname “Ma” – gets attached to them and obsessed with the new adoring attention she is receiving. But when Ma gets too clingy, stalking the gang on Facebook and blowing up their phones with needy messages, they attempt to ditch her and inadvertently push her over the edge.

Octavia Spencer’s performance is incredible and she makes for a fantastic psycho-villain. At first sweet, we quickly begin to see through the veneer and discover a damaged woman beneath who is still hurt by a mean high school prank. Spencer can switch in a blink from mild-mannered and accommodating to crazy-eyed and terrifying

Once the kids back away, she realises that she can use them to get her own back on their parents, and in particular, Ben (Evans) who at school played on her infatuation to cruelly trick her. Ma’s tracking and targetting of her obsessions is chillingly easy and real and even though the teens themselves are not particularly interesting they make for great prey. Evans is good and in one scene we see how he could trick Ma, as he also manages to pull the wool over our eyes with aplomb. Juliette Lewis is always fab and thankfully gets plenty to do as a “cool mom” whose switch quickly flips when her daughter is in danger.

The horror and thriller elements are exquisite and when the gore and attacks come they often cross lines you didn’t know you had, making for lots of gasps of disbelief, and some big scares and twists. Ma don’t play.

There are some moments that are shot like they’re important that frustratingly never pay off and threads that are left to dangle which leaves the feeling that there have been some cuts made, but Ma does what the best horror does and pushes boundaries, making for a watch that shocks and surprises and always catches you off-guard.

Nastier, edgier and weirder than you expect, Ma is a wild, wild ride and stranger-danger horror has a new Queen in Octavia Spencer.

Ma is out now in the UK.

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