Madres hardly justifies the whole Blumhouse/Amazon deal, but it’s at least the best of the eight films that have come courtesy of it.
Director Ryan Zaragoza’s Madres is undoubtedly the best of the second wave of Amazon/Blumhouse movies released this month, and arguably the best of any of the 8 features in the series. That’s an extremely low bar to clear, surely, and Madres can’t quite shake the sense that has plagued much of this “Welcome to the Blumhouse” arrangement — namely, that each entry needed another pass at the screenplay and maybe a few more bucks in the budget. Like last week’s Black as Night, Madres (scripted by Marcello Ochoa and Mario Miscione) wants to commingle its socially conscious leanings with genre thrills, and winds up being a more interesting drama than horror film. Diana (Ariana Guerra) and her husband Beto (Tenoch Huerta) have moved from Los Angeles to Golden Valley, CA. She’s a third generation immigrant, born and raised in America with a hint of valley girl lilt in her speech. He’s only been in the States for five years, and is still struggling with learning English, but has landed a job as a foreman on a farming crew in this rural community. It’s an interesting variation on a familiar dynamic — in this small, predominantly Latinx town, Beto finally feels welcome, while Diana has to deal with a language barrier for the first time in her life (Diana explains that her parents would be punished if they spoke Spanish, so they never taught their children). Still, despite some cultural difficulties, they are excited to start a family, and Diana is very pregnant for the duration of the film. Of course, spooky harbingers of potential doom pop up almost immediately; there’s a mysterious woman who runs a local shop who insists that she be allowed to perform rituals to ward off a curse, while Diana begins having hallucinations of a ghostly presence that flits in and out of the corner of the eye. There’s also the matter of the local women who seem to be suffering from abnormally high rates of infertility and miscarriage.
Like a lot of recent horror, Madres feels somehow both overstuffed and undernourished. Individual scenes move at a snail’s pace as Zaragoza attempts to build suspense, while the narrative stacks up various red herrings; is there really a curse leading to the low pregnancy rate, or is it something more quotidian yet equally sinister, like the pesticides that the farmers are using on their crops? Early scenes can’t help but suggest a variation on Rosemary’s Baby, with an increasingly isolated Diana growing more and more paranoid while Beto insists on a rational explanation to all the strange goings-on. Once Diana starts having sharp abdominal pains and visits the local medical clinic, even more strange things begin happening. There are hints here too of the perennially popular La Llorona myth, which has had a resurgence in pop culture as of late, but for all of Diana’s Nancy Drew-like investigating, the ultimate answer to this mystery is both frighteningly non-supernatural in its “banality of evil” way and also a little dull. Still, it’s a winning cast, and Zaragoza conjures a realistic, lived-in milieu, with much of the film transpiring under warm sunlight. There’s a few jump scares scattered about, but there’s nothing novel about that. Once the film ends with a scroll of data about the horrors visited on immigrant women in ICE detention centers, one wonders why the writers didn’t simply make a movie about that. But a righteous anger at the plight of these women still shines through all the plot machinations, giving Madres a little more of a jolt than its underwhelming companion films. It would be a stretch to suggest that Madres somehow justifies this entire Blumhouse distribution experiment, but at least one halfway decent movie made it out of this whole deal.
You can currently stream Ryan Zaragoza’s Madres on Amazon Prime Video.