Down to Clown?
‘Ma’ Is the Most Insane Movie I Have Ever Seen
The much-meme’d horror movie starring Octavia Spencer is so aggressively terrible, random, and wild that the only recourse is to convince yourself you’re watching high art.
It is not without understanding the gravity of the statement that I say Ma is the most ridiculous movie I have ever seen.
It is with perhaps too much understanding about how we consume pop culture that I say you will all love it. Ma will probably become one of the most popular movies of the summer.
Maybe five minutes passed at the screening I attended before a character said something so boneheaded and out of nowhere that people began cackling and screaming, “What!?” out loud, to no one, to everyone, to God.
It’s the kind of thing that would make you want to exit the theater immediately, cursing this Very Bad Movie, except Ma immediately doubles down. What happens next is even more boneheaded and random than that line of dialogue, and then there’s an even crazier thing that happens right after that.
After an exhilarating, exhausting two-ish minutes of frantically looking around making “is this really happening???” faces at everyone in the theater, the sequence ends with a character laughing nervously and saying, “Ma, you fucking got me.”
And you know what? Same. Ma, you fucking got me.
I want everyone to see this film. I also want to warn everyone to never see this film.
What is it about? Does it matter? It didn’t seem to to the filmmakers!
Octavia Spencer stars in the titular role. She is Ma.
Ma’s real name is Sue Ann. She works as a veterinarian’s assistant, and has a tragic haircut. She is walking a dog when a group of teenagers—Diana Silvers’ Maggie, McKaley Miller’s Haley, Corey Fogelmanis’ Andy, Dante Brown’s Darrell, and there may have been another few but honestly they all blended into one—ask her to buy them liquor. She acquiesces. They party.
They ask her to do it again. This time she says yes, but only if they follow her to her house to handoff the booze, so that they don’t get caught. In fact, since they’re there already, how about they just stay and drink in her creepy-ass horror movie basement. That way she can make sure they’re safe. And, you know, she can eventually try to kill them. A great idea, they say! They call her Ma.
“Now you know where the party is,” she says. (It’s at Ma’s.) Soon everyone is hanging out there. Ma becomes obsessed. When the kids start getting weirded out by her—she won’t let them see the upper floor of her house, and also she’s a strange lady who lets teens rage at her house—she floods them with texts and selfie videos until they eventually come back.
But wait—there’s a twist! It turns out Ma has been stalking the teens on Facebook. She went to high school with their parents, played by Luke Evans, Missi Pyle, and Juliette Lewis.
In the Ma origin story, told through cheesy flashbacks, they were mean to Sue Ann in high school. They tricked into her into performing a sex act that is extremely upsetting, 100 percent assault, and the basis for a 25-year revenge plan that is honestly such an offensive and crass use of sexual assault as a gross catalyst for storytelling that I wonder if there will be backlash against the movie, or whether no one will care because the movie is already so insane.
Anyway, everyone starts to figure this out and Ma goes apeshit. It is helmed by the director of The Help. (!!!) (???)
Ma calls on various hallmarks and tropes from all over the place—Carrie, Jane Eyre, Misery, Saw, Hulu’s recent The Act—which is a polite way of giving the script far too much credit, instead of just calling it out for its shoulder-shrug, kitchen-sink writing.
High school revenge story? Sure. Munchausen-by-proxy? Could be fun. That Kathy Bates, sweet-lady-is-actually-insane thing? Sounds like a good idea. An extended torture porn sequence involving castrating Luke Evans? For the love of God, yes, do that!!! And go ahead and throw Allison Janney in there for a few scenes, too.
There’s just something wild—wildly entertaining? wildly demented?—about Octavia Spencer in a Dorothy Hamill wig asking a group of teenagers if they’re “down to clown.” Is it camp? What is camp? Will Anna Wintour see Ma?
It’s such a hard film to talk about seriously. Do you discuss the craft? How?
You could call Ma a fun movie. You could argue that its ridiculousness is intentional, that everyone is in on the joke of its badness, that its badness is its art. The movie careens at such high velocity, structured almost as if someone storyboarded each scene’s meme potential and just connected the dots, that you have to believe the goal is to mimic the spirit of the worst horror movies you’ve ever seen. But Scream, this is not.
Is it good? No, but that’s the point. Or something???
Movies like this—very bad, yet very popular—seem to have become extremely popular in the age of Netflix, which has made booming business and even louder buzz churning out inexpensive and, in terms of quality, fine-enough entries in two genres—romantic comedies and horror—that are crapshoots at the box office but blockbuster couch-potato screening options.
So now it’s this weird thing where the shitty movies you watched at 1 am on HBO2 in the ’90s are now event releases. It makes sense. As cord-cutting becomes more popular, that very specific, very pleasurable viewing experience had to go somewhere, and it makes sense that the somewhere is Netflix, which is where Ma will surely end up a huge hit after its theatrical release.
Listen, I’m all for a project that puts Octavia Spencer front and center and becomes a big fat hit. I don’t even necessarily mind that it’s Ma, which is outrageous in the way that it’s a damn hoot. And you know what? More movies should be outrageous, and as brazenly so as Ma is.
The party of the year is at Ma’s. And you’re all attending.