For die-hards, no horror movie can be too scary. But for you, a wimp, the wrong one may leave you miserable. Perhaps you’ve even lost whole nights of sleep in a struggle to get certain images or ideas out of your head, leaving you to trudge into work or school the next morning and unable to function properly.
Never fear, scaredies, because Slate’s Scaredy Scale is here to help. We’ve put together a patented, spoiler-free, highly scientific system for rating new horror movies, comparing them to classics along a 10-point scale so you can determine which are too frightening for you. And because not everyone is scared by the same things—some viewers can’t stand jump scares, while others are haunted by more psychological terrors or simply can’t stomach arterial spurts—it breaks down each movie’s scares across three criteria: suspense, spookiness, and gore. This week: Ma, in which Octavia Spencer plays a middle-aged nurse who turns her basement into a party spot for small-town high school kids, for what turns out to be sinister reasons.
Ma director Tate Taylor favors the abrupt jump scare over the slow build, but Octavia Spencer could freak you out just standing in a field. As the movie grows more absurd and over the top, the suspense comes mainly from seeing just how far off the rails it’s going to go (answer: not far enough).
Ma has no supernatural elements, and the flashbacks that explain why Spencer’s character is cozying up to a bunch of high school students deflate some of her mysterious menace. But there’s a madwoman-in-the-attic uneasiness that never quite dissipates.
Ma’s gore is more implied than shown, although there’s a good amount of blood as it gets near its climax. (Animal lovers may be especially nervous given that Ma works at a veterinary clinic, but the good boys go largely unharmed.) There’s some discreet scalpel work, a makeshift branding, and lots and lots of needle-sticks—plus one moment that, while it would be a shame to spoil outright, will have cis men in particular squirming in their seats.
Ma is more of a gothic thriller than an outright horror movie, but it soaks in horror’s ambiance a good deal. It’s more freaky-deaky than scary, and more laugh-gasp campy than either. It’s the kind of movie that lets you enjoy being scared rather than one that keeps you up all night.