|Directed by||Tate Taylor|
|Story by||Scotty Landes|
|Music by||Gregory Tripi|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$61.1 million|
Ma is a 2019 American psychological horror film produced, co-written and directed by Tate Taylor. It stars Octavia Spencer, Juliette Lewis, Diana Silvers, Corey Fogelmanis, and Luke Evans, and follows a group of teenagers who befriend a lonely middle-aged woman. She lets them party in her basement, and they end up being terrorized by her. The film was produced by Jason Blum through his Blumhouse Productions company, along with Tate Taylor and John Norris.
Initially, Ma came together as a result of Taylor's desire to direct a film about "something fucked up" and Spencer's desire to break away from the kinds of roles she usually gets to play. Taylor and Spencer are longtime friends, having worked together in films such as The Help and Get on Up. Later, in 2018, Taylor and Blumhouse Productions began developing the film, with Taylor directing, Landes writing, Blum producing and Spencer starring. Principal photography on the film started in February 2018 and wrapped in March 2018, in Mississippi, with some parts shot in Natchez.
Ma was released in the United States on May 31, 2019, by Universal Pictures. It received mixed reviews from critics, who praised Spencer's performance but criticized the pacing and the script's handling of the teenage characters, and said the film did not take full advantage of its compelling premise. Nevertheless, the film was a commercial success, grossing $61.1 million against its $5 million budget. The film has also gained a cult following on social media, such as through Twitter and TikTok.
Teenager Maggie Thompson moves with her mother Erica to her Ohio hometown after Erica's husband leaves her. At her new high school, Maggie befriends Haley, Darrell, Chaz, and Andy, who immediately develops a crush on her. They convince Sue Ann "Ma" Ellington, a veterinary technician, to help buy them alcohol because they are underage. Sue Ann anonymously reports the teenagers' activities, but they are released because of the officer's history with Andy's father, Ben. The next day, Sue Ann invites the teenagers to drink in her basement. The next time they go, Sue Ann has decorated her basement and many other teenagers show up at her house to party, making her popular among the students.
However, her hospitality starts to annoy the group as she continuously harasses them to spend time with her. One night, Sue Ann sees Andy and Maggie kissing and becomes jealous. She drugs Maggie and takes her earrings. The next morning, Maggie wakes up and notices her earrings are missing and is badly bruised and cut. Scared, Maggie tells Andy that she does not want to go to Sue Ann's house anymore and that she does not want him to go, either. To earn the group's trust back, Ma lies to them that she has pancreatic cancer. As she is talking, Haley notices that she is wearing a bracelet that belongs to a friend of theirs. The girls suspect that Sue Ann has been stealing their jewelry so they go to her house to investigate. They are surprised by Genie, Sue Ann's daughter from a failed marriage; Maggie is surprised to see her walking, as she uses a wheelchair at school. Genie tells them to leave as Sue Ann arrives home, and they narrowly escape.
Andy's father Ben, who went to high school with Sue Ann, shows up at her job to drop off his cat and invites her out for drinks after work. Sue Ann goes home to change and meets him at the bar, where Ben confronts Sue Ann with a tracking device and asks her why his son has been at her house so much. Ben warns Sue Ann to stay away from Andy. A flashback reveals that Sue Ann, who had a crush on Ben in high school, was deceived into performing fellatio on a boy she thought was Ben in a closet. Once she left the closet, it turned out that she had been doing it to another boy and Ben had conspired to humiliate her. Ben had gotten the entire school to witness the assault (including his current girlfriend Mercedes and a young Erica), and Sue Ann suffered devastating trauma and humiliation, from which she never recovered.
An increasingly mentally unstable Sue Ann proceeds with getting her revenge; she runs over Mercedes with her truck, killing her. She kills her boss, draws blood from Maggie's dog Louie, and lures Ben to her house, where she knocks him out. Ben then wakes up completely naked; his arms and legs tied to her bed; Sue Ann then lifts up the towel exposing his genitalia and threatening to castrate and emasculate him, but then changes her mind covering it back with the towel; Sue Ann then expresses how Ben is comparable to a dog and moves ahead to transfusing Louie's blood from the fluid bag into his body through an IV attached to his right arm, then slashes his left wrist, and leaving him to bleed out and die. Maggie tells her mother the truth about Sue Ann, and Erica grounds her. Sue Ann sends Maggie a picture of herself with Andy in her basement at Chaz's birthday party. She sneaks out of the house to confront him. When she arrives, she notices that everyone has left and that only the original group remain. She tries to get Andy to leave but soon realizes that Andy and the rest of her friends have been drugged. Maggie tries to get help and in the process finds Ben's body. As she stands there in horror, Sue Ann renders her unconscious.
Maggie awakens chained in the basement. Sue Ann irons Chaz's stomach, sews Haley's mouth shut, and paints Darrell's face white. Andy awakens, and tries to seduce Sue Ann, as he is well aware that she is in love with him. She kisses him, but stabs him after realizing that he is lying. A police officer arrives and when Maggie screams for help, Sue Ann shoots him dead before he can react. She then gathers the four friends around the couch with her and makes Maggie take photos of them together in a crude recreation of the friendship Sue Ann always longed for but never had. Sue Ann then leaves Maggie to be hanged before Genie intervenes. Everyone else wakes up to discover what Sue Ann has done to them but barely have time to react as the house is on fire and need to find a way out. Erica, knowing where Maggie would be, calls her co-worker Stu for help and the two save the teenagers. Sue Ann attempts to throw Genie into the fire, blaming Erica for not stopping Ben from having her sexually assaulted in school. Maggie stabs Sue Ann, saving Genie.
The group goes outside and asks what has happened. Sue Ann walks upstairs and lies down next to Ben's corpse, cuddling with it as the house burns.
- Octavia Spencer as Sue Ann "Ma" Ellington
- Kyanna Simone Simpson as young Sue Ann
- Diana Silvers as Maggie Thompson
- McKaley Miller as Haley, Maggie's friend
- Corey Fogelmanis as Andy Hawkins, Maggie’s boyfriend
- Juliette Lewis as Erica Thompson
- Teagan Edsell as young Erica
- Luke Evans as Ben Hawkins
- Andrew Matthew Welch as young Ben
- Gianni Paolo as Chaz, Maggie's friend
- Dante Brown as Darrell, Maggie's friend
- Missi Pyle as Mercedes, Ben's girlfriend
- Nicole Carpenter as young Mercedes
- Tanyell Waivers as Genie Ellington
- Allison Janney as Dr. Brooks, Sue Ann's boss
- Dominic Burgess as Stu, Erica's co-worker
- Heather Marie Pate as Ashley
- Tate Taylor as Officer Grainger
- Victor Turpin as Pietro Kramer
- Margaret Fegan as Stephanie
Ma came together as a result of Tate Taylor's desire to direct a film about "something fucked up", and a conversation he had with Octavia Spencer in which she told him that she was "sick of only being offered the same role and never getting to be a lead." The two are longtime friends, having worked together in films such as The Help and Get on Up. Jason Blum and Taylor, who have been friends for a few years, knew each other socially.
Taylor went to Blum's office, reiterating, "I want to do something really fucked up." He read Scotty Landes' script of the film, which Blumhouse Productions had bought the day before. Although the original draft was written with a white woman in the title role, Taylor immediately thought about Spencer. He went out to the hall, called Spencer, and asked her if she would like to be in a horror film; without reading the script, Spencer boarded the project.
There was no backstory for the title character in the original script, which made her "a complete monster that no audience member could sympathize with". The filmmakers made it a priority to come up with an authentic backstory for the role. Taylor thought it was important to weave the themes of trauma, the sins of our parents, and how we treat people into the story to create a character audiences can relate to and feel bad for.
Ma grossed $45.8 million in the United States and Canada, and $14.8 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $60.6 million, against a production budget of $5 million.
In the United States and Canada, Ma was released alongside Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Rocketman, and was projected to gross around $20 million in its opening weekend. The film made $7.2 million on its first day, including $1.4 million from Thursday night previews. It went on to debut to $18.4 million, finishing fourth at the box office. The film made $7.8 million in its second weekend (dropping 54% and finishing in seventh), and then made $3.7 million in its third weekend.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 55% based on 198 reviews, with an average rating of 5.62/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Octavia Spencer's performance overpowers many of Ma's flaws, but uneven pacing and a labored story keep this thriller from fully realizing its unhinged potential." On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 53 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B–" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it an average 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Benjamin Lee of The Guardian gave the film 3 out of 5 stars, describing it as "a nasty yet surprisingly empathetic slab of exploitation with more than just carnage on its mind." Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly rated the film a grade of B, specifying, "Even as the story descends into full bloody camp at its crescendo, Spencer holds the more ludicrous plot threads together." Owen Glieberman of Variety wrote, "Spencer, a chameleon of an actress, does mood swings in Ma that leave us entertainingly off guard."
Jude Dry of IndieWire gave the film a grade of C, stating that "it takes an amusing premise, reduces it to its most basic parts, then weighs it down with silly scare tactics," while John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "It quickly spins its shaky premise off into an unconvincing study of emotional need and an even harder-to-believe revenge thriller."
At 2019's Saturn Awards, Spencer was nominated for Best Actress and the film was nominated for Best Thriller Film. Ma has since achieved a cult classic status, garnering a significant internet following.
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