by Hope Madden
Oh my God, you guys. Did you know Tate Taylor directed the new Octavia Spencer horror flick, Ma?
You know, Tate Taylor. Girl on a Train. Get On Up. The effing Help – that Tate Taylor.
No wonder Octavia Spencer is in it, and God bless her for it because she commits to a role that, in other hands, could have been utterly, laughably predictable.
In fact, were it not for a breathtakingly better-than-this-material cast, Ma would have devolved quickly into every other “get back at the popular kids – oh, wait, maybe let’s vilify and re-victimize the unpopular instead” horror.
Spencer’s Sue Ann, or Ma, as the kids call her, is just an easy mark for teens wanting alcohol. Yes, she’ll buy it as long as you drink it at her house where she knows you’re safe.
Does she have nefarious motives?
For her part, the Oscar-winner (for Taylor’s The Help) convinces, drawing both sympathy and fear. She’s joined in small roles by another Oscar winner (an almost jarringly funny Allison Janney) and an Oscar nominee (Juliette Lewis) as well as Luke Evans and a set of talented young actors led by Booksmart’s Diana Silvers.
How on earth did this by-the-numbers outsider/don’t trust the lonely older lady horror flick draw this cast?!
I do not know, because Ma has nothing really new to say, so it relies in its entirety on this cast to entertain. But there are two reasons that this story and this particular cast are actually Ma’s problems.
One is something that still surprises me about horror. On the whole, horror appeals to outcasts. And yet, from Carrie White to the coven in The Craft to Sue Ann in Ma, horror films reestablish the status quo by putting outcasts in their place. Sure, they get that grand few moments of terrorizing the beautiful, popular kids, but things end badly in horror movies for the outcast.
Here’s what troubles me even more about Tate Taylor, and to a degree, Octavia Spencer films. (Note that Spencer executive produced the racially problematic and utterly mediocre Green Book.)
Ma is racially tone deaf. I have no idea why this wealthy Southern white man insists on telling stories exclusively about African Americans, but he truly should not. A story that vilifies the lonely middle aged woman, seeing her as a broken psychotic based on her generally pathetic nature, is misogynistic. When this villain is also the only African American woman in the film, that problem is heightened dramatically.
Don’t get me wrong—I am a fanatical horror fan, and when an Oscar -winner (and multiple nominee) chooses to star, let alone star as the villain (the most important character) in a horror film, I am all in.
But this was the wrong movie.