Tense nearly from the beginning, this horror-thriller has several strong elements in its favor, but it’s held back from greatness by an overextended plot and an underwhelming climax. In the titular role, Octavia Spencer is terrific, able to engender both sympathy and chills often in the same scene as a lonely woman who latches on to a group of teenagers for companionship. The movie does a great job of escalating the tension, ratcheting up the stakes scene by scene, carefully weaving an intricate web ensnaring the majority of its characters until it feels downright claustrophobic. However, there’s too much going on at once: A mid-movie reveal fails to elicit the tension it should because it introduces a new aspect into its narrative without addressing it much, and it feels like one dynamic too many for the plot to sustain (it doesn’t help that it doesn’t really go anywhere). Additionally, the climax has some effective, shocking moments, but the climactic reveal of Ma’s motivation is disappointing and unsatisfying. So come for Spencer’s terrific performance, but adjust your expectations regarding the storyline.
Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)