There’s no denying that Ma follows in the footsteps of 2017’s Get Out and not just because it’s a horror film centred on a black character.

Jason Blum produces, with direction from Tate Taylor who reunites with actress Octavia Spencer after their work on The Help. Yet while Ma is schlocky fun, it’s not as smart as Jordan Peele’s work.

In many ways, this is typical horror stuff. A group of teens making poor decisions and an older character who’s not as sweet as she first appears. Spencer’s Sue Ann shuffles along innocently enough when the teens first meet her and persuade her to buy them alcohol for a drunken night in the wilderness.

Yet when she invites them to party back at her home in the relative safety of her basement, alarm bells should be ringing.

Soon she’s stalking them on social media, showing up at school and at their homes with invites for more parties. There are ulterior motives here as Sue Ann becomes more sinister, unpredictable and perverse with her penchant for young teenage men, plying girls with drink and whatever the hell is going on upstairs.

Octavia Spencer in Ma (Universal Studios)

Octavia Spencer in Ma (Universal Studios)

Amongst this, we’re drip-fed scenes from Sue Ann’s past as we witness her being bullied by schoolmates as a teen. While this does stall the tension, it gives the character a welcome backstory that goes some way to explaining her creepy nature.

She’s not just a modern-day manipulative child catcher, but a poor woman still distressed by a traumatic past. The teens may have more screen time, but these scenes give our central character more depth and nuance.

It’s all rife with symbolism and foreshadowing, so it’s easy to read far too much into it all. Though not originally conceived as a black character, the casting of Spencer weaves racial politics throughout this revenge film.

At one not-so-subtle point, she literally paints another black character white, not only dominating the screen but marking herself as the sole black outsider. There’s gender politics too, with plenty of phallic imagery and the asserting of power, especially in one emasculating scene.

It ties into modern woke anxieties, coupled with the focus on social media. Sue Ann may lure the teens in with typical youthful vices of alcohol and freedom, but her stalking and bullying them online is a particularly modern twist.

Octavia Spencer and Luke Evans in Ma (Universal Studios)

Octavia Spencer and Luke Evans in Ma (Universal Studios)

Yet is the film really smart enough to warrant such a reading? It is, essentially, a cheesy horror film with a narrative that relies too heavily on teenagers making irrational decisions so you’ll feel more frustrated than drawn in. By the time it reaches its grotesque and torturous conclusion, it doesn’t feel earned.

Though there are some great turns from the adult cast including Juliette Lewis, Luke Evans and a hilariously bitchy cameo from Allison Janney. But what saves the film is Spencer’s performance, finally taking her from supporting to leading lady status.

More camp than frightening (in the best possible way), she swings wildly from kindly to sinister, stalking through fire and giving eccentric looks to camera.

Yet we also witness her breakdown into tears in her car – a distinctly human moment that proves she’s no monster but a victim of horrendous abuse. By comparison to the bland teens, it makes us root for her even more as she gives them a party they’ll never forget.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆