Never trust a bootlegger.
Sooner or later, cops get involved and the person buying all the booze is going to turn. Or so we learn in “Ma,” a weird horror film that suggests the pain felt in high school can revisit another generation.
Upset with the way she was treated as a teenager, Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) agrees to buy her peers’ children a box full of liquor. That escalates to hosting parties in her basement and, eventually, stalking the kids who don’t think they want to spend entire weekends with a middle-aged veterinary assistant.
The boozehounds call her “Ma,” a term of endearment that grates at first but then becomes her calling card. When Ma doesn’t get what she wants, though, there’s more than hell to pay.
Director Tate Taylor lets this fester a little longer than he should and doesn’t give Spencer the role someone of her stature deserves.
Instead, “Ma” is little more than Grade B horror film, complete with torture scenes and an exit that’s downright creepy.
Allison Janney (who co-starred with Spencer in Taylor’s “The Help”) sniffs around as Sue Ann’s boss, but she’s hardly given a role. She’s just another authority figure who makes Ma miserable.
The relationship begins when a new girl (Diana Silvers) moves to town and is asked if she wants to hang out with others. Her mother (Juliette Lewis) OKs the foray but doesn’t remember her own struggles soon enough to put two and two together.
Sue Ann was a former classmate who was ridiculed by the popular kids in school. Those kids, apparently, didn’t leave town and have next-to-no clue who she used to be. (How that happens is anyone’s guess, particularly since the town isn’t that big and it appears Sue Ann has been around forever.)
When the head of a security firm (Luke Evans) discovers his son has been hanging out at her house, he confronts her and sets into motion the final countdown.
Littered with plotholes, “Ma” should have made Sue Ann a familiar face in the community. It also might have explained why cops never tracked all those high school kids going to her house.
When things go too far (and they do), Spencer has to play out scenes that might make teens think twice about a Saturday night out.
Using pharmaceuticals she cobs from the office (and how someone isn’t keeping track of them is a mystery, too), she manages to drug the kids before torturing them. From beginning to end, this is extremely uncomfortable.
While doors are closed sufficiently to make a sequel difficult, there’s always room for a resurrection.
“Ma” doesn’t say much about Pa and he could be just as lethal.