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Film / Ma

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"This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time!"
Maggie: There's something off about Ma.
Andy: Seriously? She's harmless. And her basement's pretty much the best drinking spot in town.

Ma is a 2019 psychological horror film written and directed by Tate Taylor and distributed by Blumhouse Productions.

The film involves the titular "Ma," Sue Ann Ellington (Octavia Spencer), being convinced by a group of adolescents to buy them alcohol. She offers them the opportunity of drinking in her basement, but she also lays down several house rules: one of them has to stay sober, they can't go upstairs, they aren't allowed to curse, and they must always refer to her as "Ma". Naturally, the film takes a drastic turn when Ma begins to express more sinister intentions.

Previews: Trailer.

Ma contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Sue Ann seems to treat Genie little better than her victims, given Genie’s fear of her mother, and in the climax outright tries to kill her.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Even though Sue Ann kills several people, her death is framed in an unusually somber way. After being stabbed by Maggie, she retreats back into her house and watches the escaped teens comforting each other through her window, and sad music plays as she goes upstairs to her bedroom and lays her head on Ben's corpse, apparently content to die alone as her house burns down with her in it.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Haley first greets Maggie at school by commenting on her butt, then clarifies that she's not a lesbian. Later, after drinking at a party, Haley openly calls Maggie beautiful, throws her arms around her and initiates a lips on lips kiss. This despite Haley having a relationship with Chaz.
  • Antagonist Title: Sue Ann Ellington, a.k.a. "Ma," is the Big Bad.
  • Asshole Victim: Ma kills Dr. Brown, Mercedes, and Ben. None of those three elicit much sympathy because they were huge jerks, and the latter two were completely unrepentant about their past treatment of her.
  • Armor-Piercing Response:
    • As Sue Ann is about to kill him for what he did to her back in high school, Ben protests that he was just a kid then. Sue Ann simply retorts, "So was I, motherfucker."
    • Another comes when Erica pleads to her.
    Erica: What happened to you was awful! And I should've stopped it, ok! I should've stopped them!
    Sue Ann: But you didn't! You didn't! (crying) You didn't!
  • Auto Erotica: Ben is in the driver's seat of his car getting a blowjob from Mercedes when they're interrupted by a call on his cellphone.
  • Ax-Crazy: Ma is murderously obsessive with the teens, and as the film goes on, proceeds to murder three people in cold blood with little provocation.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Ben takes his dog to the vet, recognizes Sue Ann at the counter, and warmly invites her to dinner. Sue Ann gets excited and dresses up, thinking she finally has a chance at her old crush (Ben is a widower). Ben is actually trying to confront Sue Ann over his kids going to her house to party. He ends up cruelly telling her that "some people just don't change," which seems to be the final insult that causes Sue Ann to snap; in the very next scene, she murders Mercedes.
    Ma: (coldly) No, they don't.
  • Bed Trick: As shown in the flashback to when all the grown-up characters were in high school, Ben took Sue Ann into a dark closet so that she thought she was performing fellatio on him, but when they come out she discovers that Ben tricked her by switching himself with another guy and telling everybody to wait outside to mock her afterwards.
  • Best Served Cold: Sue Ann was treated horribly in high school by people she thought were her friends. Now middle-aged, she's going to take her revenge on both those classmates and their high school-aged kids.
  • Betrayal by Inaction: Erica didn't stop the humiliating prank from happening to Sue Ann. Years later, Erica's daughter Maggie is targeted by Sue Ann as revenge.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Genie knocks down Sue Ann before she can kill the teens, starting the fire that ultimately kills Sue Ann and saving the potential victims' lives.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The teenagers are traumatized—with Chaz, Haley, and Andy also physically scarred—but they all survive and with Sue Ann's death, Genie is freed from her mother's abuse.
  • Black Comedy: Shades of this throughout. In particular, the bit where Sue Ann impulsively murders Mercedes by running her over so that the body does a flip in the air, after which Sue Ann just keeps on driving and starts playing "September" by Earth, Wind and Fire as if nothing had happened. The Wham Shot of Mercedes' bloody corpse, while the music plays, is the icing on the cake.
  • Car Fu: Sue Ann is driving in her pickup truck when she sees Mercedes jogging along the road, and runs her over.
  • Category Traitor: When Ma gives out a different "punishment" to each of the four kids, she paints Darrell's face white on the grounds that he cared more about being down with the popular white kids than about respecting her as a fellow black person. She also sews Haley's mouth shut after being told that she needs a man.
  • Cop Killer: Sue Ann shoots Officer Grainger when he comes to investigate garbage on her property, in order to prevent him from finding out about her having kidnapped, drugged, and tortured the teens.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Ma kills Ben by slitting his wrist and inserting an IV full of dog blood in his arm, causing the blood to clot in his veins.
  • Death by Cameo:
    • Officer Grainger, who eventually gets shot and killed by Sue Ann, is played by the movie's director, Tate Taylor.
    • Allison Janey's character, Dr. Brown, has at most 8 lines before her off-screen death at the hands of Ma.
  • Dirty Old Woman: Ma targets Andy, the son of her high school crush, and forces Chaz to strip naked at gunpoint before making comments on his body.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Yes, Sue Ann has reason to hate Ben and his friends for having abused her in high school. But her resort to torture and murder makes her even worse than them, especially because she treats all of her classmates as equally to blame and drags their kids into it too.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Averted by Ma's attack on Andy, where Ma is portrayed unambiguously as a sexual predator. The situation with Ben is played with, as it could be seen as Karmic Rape, since Ben initiated the Bed Trick (essentially a form of rape) on her in a closet in high school.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Ben's only redeeming quality is his love for his son, and he gets killed when he goes looking for him.
  • Face Death with Dignity: After being stabbed in the back by Maggie and left alone in the burning house, Sue Ann calmly goes back to her room and lies down next to Ben's corpse to die beside him.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Ma starts off as seemingly affable enough to invite Maggie and the others to party in her basement, but she slowly is revealed to be more and more psychotic.
  • Foreshadowing: Sue Ann makes a comment to Maggie that "all men are dogs." Later, she kills Ben—who tricked her into giving a blowjob to a complete stranger in high school—by tying him to the bed and injecting him with an IV full of dog blood.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: Ma's house is awfully big for what a veterinary technician could realistically afford, but she may have bought it with her previous husband, especially since the movie isn't clear on whether Ma is divorced or if she killed him.
  • Freudian Excuse: Ma is the way she is because of a cruel prank that was orchestrated by her crush in high school.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Sue Ann was once a meek outcast who was under the delusion that she was popular (although she was just the chew toy for Ben and Mercedes). Following a cruel prank orchestrated by Ben, she cut off all ties with her classmates, and due to their harsh treatment of her it is implied her mental growth was stunted. Hungry for the camaraderie she lacked in school, she becomes overly obsessive to the protagonist teens and later murderous when they reject her the same way their parents did.
  • Groin Attack: Ma ties Ben to her bed naked and prepares to emasculate him with a knife, but then reveals she was just terrifying him with a bluff. What she actually does to him isn't really any less horrible.
  • Hate Sink: Ben and Mercedes bullied Sue Ann back in high school by tricking her into performing a blowjob on a total stranger in a dark closet while her classmates waited outside to mock her. Unrepentant even years later, Ben threatens Sue Ann and additionally reminds her that she is a loser. As such, both receive little sympathy when Sue Ann murders them.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Even after Ma points a gun at Chaz, forces him to strip naked in front of everyone and then plays it off as a joke, the kids (initially) don't think anything's wrong with her and still keep going over to her house for booze and parties.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: It's heavily implied that Ma only starts buying the teenagers alcohol and partying with them as a way of reliving her high school years as a popular kid, helped by the fact that many of the teens are children of the former popular clique. It's only when they rebuff her that she starts to turn violent.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Ma's boss, Dr. Brown, is short-tempered and extremely rude. However, she's justifiably frustrated that Ma keeps tuning out at work with distractions such as stalking the teens on Facebook.
    • When Ben confronts Ma about her hosting illegal parties for the teens, he's correct to say that she's breaking the law and clinging to revenge from decades ago. Also, his demands to Ma to leave his son alone when pointing that out would be considered a justifiable Papa Wolf move on his behalf. At the same time he shows himself to still be the same bully he was back in high school, attributing Ma's actions to her having always been a loser and a rotten person while refusing to acknowledge the injustice of what he did to her.
  • Kick the Dog: After the main group of teens turns down Ma's second invite, she tries to win over another group by buying them booze like she did with Maggie and her friends, but when she leads them to her house, they just drive off with the alcohol and egg her truck for her troubles.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: Ma kills both Mercedes and Ben, who were both either directly or indirectly responsible for her high school trauma.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: After a presumably fatal stab in the back by Maggie, Ma chooses not to pursue the remaining teens in the front yard, choosing instead to burn with the house next to Ben's corpse.
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: What Ma says after buying the kids drinks. Of course, she immediately invites them over regardless.
  • Mad Doctor: Ma works as a veterinarian's assistant, while secretly using her skills and the medical supplies she steals to drug and torture her victims.
  • Mama Bear: Erica is distant and lenient until she finds out where Maggie had been spending her nights. The second she hears, she forbids Maggie from going out alone, confronts Sue Ann in a liquor store, and even teams up with Stu for a rescue mission when Maggie disappears.
  • Mouth Stitched Shut: In the climax, Ma stitches Haley's lips shut while she has the teenagers restrained and drugged, saying it's the right punishment for a girl who has the "gift of gab".
  • Münchausen Syndrome:
    • After the teens block her and stop coming to her house, Ma tells them she has pancreatic cancer and explains her off-putting behavior as a side-effect of the cancer drugs she's on. Maggie figures it's a lie Sue Ann devised to regain their trust.
    • Ma also commits Munchausen by Proxy with her daughter Genie, gaslighting her with the claim that she has to stay at home because she's vey sick while forcing her to take suspicious medication.
  • Never My Fault: After shooting Officer Grainger to keep him from investigating the house, Ma accuses Genie of having made her kill the man because she blew their cover.
  • No Social Skills: Ma was initially a shy girl who got invited to major parties, and forms an unhealthy obsession with her teenage friends as a result.
  • Parents as People: Maggie's mother Erica and Andy's father Ben do love their children, but their parenting skills are imperfect and they've got issues of their own. Erica at least has the excuse that she's raising Maggie alone and is preoccupied with her sucky job, while there's no getting around the fact that Ben is a Jerkass.
  • Pet the Dog: When the kids are drugged and chained in Ma's basement, Darrell gets off relatively easy since all she does is paint his face white, considering she physically maims the others.
  • Prophetic Name: Mercedes dies when Ma hits her and runs her over with her car.
  • Psychopathic Womanchild: The fact that Ma traps and tortures a group of teens and murders two people she knew in high school in cold blood simply because she was humiliated there many years ago is a very good indicator of both how crazed and in touch with her inner child she really is. Although she’s intelligent enough to hide these during her day job and (initially) during her trips outside, so she’s a Type C.
  • Rape as Backstory: Ma's issues can be traced back to her being tricked into giving oral sex to a stranger who she thought was Ben, and then taunted about it by the entire class.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Ma's so out of her mind that she targets Andy for some of the worst treatment simply for being Ben's son.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: That second group of kids ditch Ma after she buys them booze. To them, she was just a gullible adult, and despite the dickishness of egging her truck, they were definitely better off for wanting nothing more to do with her.
  • Sanity Slippage: Granted, Ma wasn't that stable to begin with considering her kleptomania and Münchausen Syndrome, but she only turns openly murderous after Haley's "block Ma" campaign and Ben's "Reason You Suck" Speech at the restaurant.
  • Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up: Both Mercedes and Ben played a cruel prank on Sue Ann in high school. Neither of them express any remorse or behave better towards her (or anyone else) decades later, so it's no surprise when she decides to kill them.
  • Shameful Strip: On the first night that the kids come to her basement, Ma takes offense at something Chaz says and suddenly pulls a gun on him, forcing him to take his clothes off. Finally, she breaks the tension by laughing and claiming she was just kidding, which relieves everyone but proves to be an early red flag.
  • Slave Collar: The four teens are briefly forced into dog collars by Sue Ann in the climax. They're tied down preventing them from moving very far.
  • The Sociopath: Sue Ann appears to be friendly and charismatic at first despite her reclusive life, but she is quickly revealed to be a psychotic woman who constantly pushes for Maggie and her friends to party at her house to feed her need for stimulation. She lies frequently; one example being when she lied about having pancreatic cancer to keep the teens wrapped around her finger. She did not have an iota of remorse for any of her misdeeds, and despite claiming to love her daughter Genie, she nevertheless had no qualms with drugging her to keep her from leaving the house, and subsequently attempting to throw her into the fire.
  • Tagline: Get Home Safe.
  • Tragic Villain: Ma has shades of this. Viciously bullied during high school for her appearance, bookishness, and implicitly her race, she became the butt of a particularly horrific prank that the whole school got to witness, partially orchestrated by her crush. In the modern day, it's unclear if Ma began the story as a psychopath or if she really was just trying to make the friends she never had in her youth. On the one hand, her treatment of Genie is horrific, but on the other hand, her desperate attempts to make right by Maggie and Haley and her childish excitement over Ben's invitation to dinner belies the fact that she never did recover from her high school abuse.
  • Together in Death: After Sue Ann is stabbed by Maggie and the house is set on fire, she calmly walks upstairs and lies down in her bed next to Ben's body before being swallowed up by the flames.
  • The Unapologetic: Ben refuses to make amends for what he did to Ma in the past. The only time he makes something remotely leaning as such is when he knows she's going to kill him.
    Ben: I was just a kid!
    Sue Ann: So was I, motherfucker!
  • We Used to Be Friends: Sue Ann was good friends with Erica before Sue Ann was humiliated in front of everyone, and Erica never came to her defense.
  • Women Are Wiser: Maggie and Haley are the first to catch on to the fact that there's something wrong with Ma, while Chaz, Andy and Darrell just want to keep going for the booze and parties.

"What you did to me, it never goes away."