Maggie (Diana Silvers) is a sixteen-year-old moving to a new town to start again with her single mother Erica (Juliette Lewis), who grew up there before she left for California to try her luck. That luck ran out a while ago, hence she is back where she was, only now with a daughter keen to assert her independence. To that end, Maggie has made a few new friends in high school who invite her to hang out with them, though this half-turns out to be down to them wanting someone to buy alcohol for them, and she has an innocent face which can play for sympathy from passersby who are walking past the local shop. Which is how they all meet the seemingly innocent Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer)...
Ma was another Blumhouse horror, and another instance of the twenty-tens throwing up a horror that developed into nasty ways but skimped on any over the top gore; sure, there was bloodletting, but not to an excessive degree, and it was the bad behaviour that was the source of the chills rather than any psychopathic slasher flick villain cutting a swathe through the cast. Indeed, though slashers appeared to be the inspiration for title character Ma's killing spree, she did not ultimately go as far as she could have, and even allowed injured characters to survive to the end credits which betrayed a softer heart than perhaps many in the audience would have wanted for their shocker movie.
It could be you could put that down to the film being called Ma and despite some pretty bizarre point scoring, the project still retained some affection for Spencer as a surrogate for every mother who did her best to look after the younger generation but fell short in some way. In Sue Ann's case, that was thanks to incidents in her past that interestingly for the genre implied that her race was what made her the target of bullies at high school - aside from something as high profile as Candyman, racism was not often the motive for a horror, possibly because of the genre's regrettable habit of bumping off its black characters and allowing its white ones to survive to the very conclusion.
At least for many of the more thoughtless ones, as the murder of the black guy had become such a cliché that it had entered the pop culture conversation. Here, however, the black woman was the perpetrator of the wickedness, thanks to a rewrite on Scotty Landes' script instigated by Spencer's casting by Tate Taylor, who had directed The Help which won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar a few years before (there's an odd career path for both of them). Luckily, Spencer showed an interest in the lead because she was a big fan of horror movies, resulting in a more resonant effort than it might otherwise have been, the lead exacting her vengeance on the whites who victimised her in her younger years, an experience she has never been able to let go since the town needs someone to look down on.
And Sue Ann fits that bill perfectly: more social trappings saw her as a necessary part of life in a town where the economy was struggling and anyone with any sense would have left as soon as they could, which had those left behind needing a scapegoat to elevate their own none-too-impressive status. She is the unfortunate recipient of that unwanted role, but not everyone on the receiving end of that treatment is going to the lengths that Sue Ann does, encouraging the kids of those who bullied her to drink in her basement, which they do happily after dully recognising their futures are about as promising as their go-nowhere parents'. So much so that despite their hostess giving off major crazy vibes - and we have no idea of how crazy she can get, which does justify the horror tag - they go along with her until it is too late. Ma was never going to be classic, but a surprisingly nuanced reading from Spencer in the Annie Wilkes role elevated it above what could have been disposable. Music by Gregory Tripi.