Film Review: Ma

Octavia Spencer is a riot in director Tate Taylor’s Ma. The thriller is a lot of fun, with a gloriously deranged final act.

A group of teenagers in a small town are looking for an adult to buy them alcohol. Sue Ann agrees to make their purchase, and later invites them to use her basement to party. Their host, however, isn’t quite what she seems…

Written by Scotty Landes and directed by Tate Taylor, Ma is a thriller with a healthy dose of humour. Focusing on an adult protagonist and a group of teenagers, the film leads viewers a merry dance. From her initial appearance, it is very obvious that there is something odd about Sue Ann. Yet her secrets remain a mystery until a good way into proceedings. 

There are elements of horror that are scattered throughout the film, but Ma fits squarely in the thriller category. The trope of the unhinged lady and the younger victims was recently seen in Greta. Yet here Taylor knows when to withhold, when to play for laughs, and when to accelerate. The tension sometimes builds to a laugh; the film is very effective at this. Yet the undercurrent of tension is always present. The barmy final act amps up the zaniness walking the tightrope between terror and silliness. It is a combination which is most enjoyable. 

The narrative is careful to not reveal too much about Sue Ann. Viewers are posited with new girl Maggie and her group of friends. There are a number of aspects to Sue Ann’s obsession and mania. These work well in a film of this type, but perhaps doesn’t bear close scrutiny. Nonetheless, the fallout from her actions are wild and a lot of fun.

Taylor aims for the dramatic with frequent use of jump scares. The score plays into this acutely. Octavia Spencer (who is also an Executive Producer) is great in Ma. It is wonderful to see her play a prominent role, and inhabit a character very different from what we have seen before. She seems to be having fun with this role, and this shines through to viewers. Diana Silvers is decent, and has good chemistry with Juliette Lewis. For viewers who have grown up with Lewis since the days of 1991’s Cape Fear, it is rather odd to see her inhabit the mother of a teen role. Yet she is most convincing.

Taylor and Landes know what the audience wants from a film such as this, and do not disappoint. Ma‘s spiral into mania is tremendous fun. Hopefully this will lead to more leading roles for Octavia Spencer.

Film Review: Greta

Despite a good cast and a decent premise, Neil Jordan’s Greta frustrates with its host of implausibilities. Although the bombast is welcome, it is not enough to save the film.

When Frances finds a handbag left on the subway, she decides to return it to its owner. She returns the handbag to Greta, a lonely widow. The widow strikes up a friendship with the young girl, but all is not what it seems…

Greta is a psychological thriller in the vein of Single White Female. At first glance, writer-director Jordan and co-writer Ray Wright’s film has all the elements to make this type of thriller work. There is the naive, wide-eyed protagonist. There is of course the unnerving antagonist. There is the initial set up with the undercurrent of unease. 

Despite these aspects, the film falters early on. There are too many plot holes, asking the audience to suspend disbelief too much and too early. The early harassment phase is palatable enough, even generating tension at times. The film goes off the deep end completely in the second half, and doubles down rather than attempting a recovery. Jordan settles on a flamboyant take, which viewers need to be fully on board with. The camp theatrics are not quite convincing enough to forgive the impossibilities.

There is too much in the narrative that is implausible. The actions of the protagonist defy logic. Moreover, Greta works well as an antagonist in the psychological rather than physical sense. The final third is nonsensical, given the parity in strength between the two main characters. Two late scenes involving additional characters are particularly silly. 

The score is overwrought, coming in too early for its intensity. Visual effects are decent, as is the production design. Isabelle Huppert is simply too good for the material. She hams it up adequately, revelling in the ridiculousness rather than playing it straight. Meanwhile, Chloë Grace Moretz is more earnest than the film deserves. Maika Monroe is decent in a supporting role.

Greta is too exasperating to be enjoyable. Neil Jordan has a flair for the flamboyant, but does not manage to pull it off successfully here.