'Ma' Is the Scariest, Funniest Movie About Teens Being the Absolute Worst

Octavia Spencer shines as a different kind of horror movie monster in 'Ma'.

The scariest thing about Ma is that we have all been Ma. We know what it’s like to be a little too weird, and a little too lonely, to feel like we belong.

Ma is the new Blumhouse horror film from director Tate Taylor that hysterically, and depressingly, ruminates at the ugly isolation that comes with being a young adult. Ma’s a pretty good horror movie about teens being the worst, no matter what generation they claim.

In theaters on Friday, May 31, Ma is the story of Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer), a lonely, middle-aged woman who is approached by a clique of teenagers to buy them alcohol. In the blink of an eye, Sue Ann’s basement becomes the hottest spot in town, but her attachment to the kids soon becomes dangerously severe. That’s when Sue Ann’s true motives are revealed.

In addition to Spencer, Ma features an ensemble of young actors (led by Diana Silvers as “Maggie”) who play some of the wittiest yet most brash little shits you’ve ever seen. The equally bad adults who hover around them include Juliette Lewis, Luke Evans, Missi Pyle, and an amusing Allison Janney as Sue Ann’s frustrated boss. Ma is very funny, if not terrifying. I could see the jump scares in Ma coming, but I still jumped.

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Octavia Spencer is brilliant in 'Ma', a film that is better seen as a cautionary tale than just another horror movie.

Spencer is an Oscar-winner known for playing warm black characters who make white characters feel comfortable, even as she’s serving them revenge pie. In Ma, she subverts expectations and turns in the work of her career. The film is a revelation of Spencer’s range. It’s why Sue Ann, without a mask or gimmicky weapon, still qualifies for the pantheon of the horror movie villains. Her aggressive normalcy, with alarmingly off-putting behavior in regards to attachment, is what makes Sue Ann so sublime. 

Ma is also brilliant as a subversion against decades of teen movies. That includes both horror (Ma is equal parts Carrie and Scream) and raunchy comedies (Fast Times at Ridgemont High and American Pie). Where most teen movies depict adolescence as ultimately a precious time, Ma makes it fraught with danger — from careless Facebook tagging to accidental mass texts.

The film also avoids the well-trodden path of the sex-centric slasher. While sex/love and attachment is certainly at the forefront in Ma (especially in Sue Ann), you can’t predict her victims just because they’re making out.

Most of all, though, Ma is about the nasty skeletons we leave behind for our children to discover. Reminiscent of Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy, the emotional crux of Ma centers on her “origin story,” when a clique of teens pulled a horrible prank on a lonesome, young Sue Ann (played with extreme pity by Kyanna Simone Simpson). While Sue Ann’s tormentors moved on with their lives to become equally shitty adults, the day remains vivid for Sue Ann. Ma is a cautionary tale about bullying: Torment the wrong person today, end up dead on a bed tomorrow.

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'Ma' is far from the goriest horror movie, but it can be brutal. 

Ma isn’t the most original movie about teenagers, but it is emotionally dark with an organically playful and amusing tone. The film goes to great lengths to make its villain sympathetic and alarmingly human, which is perhaps the most disturbing thing about it.

In its raw humanity is where Ma is most memorable. At one point, we learn of the motivation for Sue Ann’s terrifying actions.

“I was just a kid,” pleads her victim. With a cracked voice, she responds: “So was I.”

That’s the horrifying truth in Ma: At some point, we all were kids.

Ma is in theaters on May 31.

Media via Universal Pictures