‘Madres’ is Streaming on Amzon Prime Video
Reviewed by Stacey Yvonne:The production team for Madres is made up of young, new talent that is setting out to shape the face of horror. Directed by first-time feature director, Ryan Zaragoza and written by Mario Miscione and Marcella Ochoa, Madres is a fantastically helmed debut that showcases terror as more than just jump scares.
The story revolves around a young pregnant couple in 1970’s California. Beto (Tenoch Huerta) and Diana (Ariana Guerra) are moving from the creature comforts of Los Angeles to a small town further north where former undocumented immigrant Beto will be managing farmhands in their small town.
The tiny village is mostly Latinx with the only two white people being the pleasant Dr. Bell (Robert Larriviere) and his assistant Nurse Molly (Ashleigh Lewis). Spanish is the primary language, an obstacle to Diana who didn’t grow up speaking Spanish since her parents wanted her to be more Americanized. It’s a sad yet common tale. One of the first rules in the assimilation handbook is blocking access to a native language. Diana hasn’t seen this as a priority before, but she can feel the separation become even greater when she’s unable to communicate with her neighbors, despite being of the same background.
Isolated from the town, she begins to have disturbing nightmares, specifically about her baby. When she begins to search the grounds she finds a peculiar talisman and eyeballs hanging from her trees. Anita (Elpidia Carrillo) the owner of the local curiosity shop, insists that Diana needs protection and tries to gift her with the same talisman Diana found earlier. Diana rejects the offer and is determined to find a source that exists within the temporal realm.
Diana and Beto are invited to a welcome barbecue thrown by Beto’s boss Tomas (Joseph Garcia) where the only thing enjoyable is the homemade Aqua Fresca (which Tomas happily sends home with Diana along with some other goodies). While there, Diana meets two townswomen who seem reluctant to be inviting, but do ask about her coming bundle of joy. Diana begins to notice that there don’t seem to be any small children in the town save a young boy.
While all of this may seem like random minutia, it all culminates into a heartwrenching tale as Diana risks everything to find out the truth to the maldicia or “curse” and the occurrences she experiences. The audience can see the ghostly apparition, she appears a few times to Diana herself. Yet, she searches for more, which begs the question, what else is there to find? The answer is shocking, sad and poignantly shown.
It’s interesting to see the relationship horror has on certain cultures and especially the nearly familiar relationship a lot of Latinx households have with the spirit world. I was able to attend the premiere of Madres and the legitimate jump scares weren’t what riled up the audience the most. It was when a character used a slur from Mexicans who came into the country by whatever means they could. The fear was based on disrespect, in never being taken seriously. The relationship to the spirit is almost conspiratorial. There’s fear from Diana because that’s what happens when you turn and see a melting ghost face in front of you, but the fear turns to curiosity and that curiosity is what fuels the reveal of the film.
The turns are elegant and the lessons in the film are exact, but not heavy handed. If it weren’t for the ghost I could easily categorize this as a psychological thriller and it’s just as engaging and terrifying, just in a different way.
I want to make a special mention of Evelyn Gonzalez who plays “Marisol”. When we first learn of Marisol she’s writhing in pain [in Spanish!] in the clinic where Diana happens to be after a close call with the baby. She’s so vulnerable and so scared and completely surrounded by people that can’t understand her and that she can’t understand. Diana’s character relies on her being strong enough to fight, it was such a pleasing juxtaposition to see someone completely vulnerable and someone that for Diana, is worth fighting for.
Overall Madres is a gorgeously told story whose effects are lasting and important. Some have billed it as the Mexican Get Out and it’s not an unfair comparison. Both do a fantastic job of presenting social issues in a way that’s digestible while still being entertaining and engaging. It’s a movie that invites several rewatches and will enthrall you each time.
Madres premieres on Amazon Prime, Friday, October 8th.
Pull Quote: Madres is a gorgeously told story whose effects are lasting and important. Some have billed it the Mexican Get Out and it’s not an unfair comparison.