MADRES (2021), a new Amazon Original movie, is a tepid horror movie that concludes with some powerful, important social commentary which sadly belongs in another movie.
In other words, the message from MADRES is a good one, but the horror movie which precedes the message is not. Not by a long shot.
MADRES is based on true events, and takes place in the 1970s. A young Mexican/American couple Diana (Ariana Guerra) and Beto (Tenoch Huerta) move to a new ranch home in California because Beto is beginning a new job as manager at a farm, and he got the job because most of the workers there share his Mexican heritage. Diana is pregnant with their first child.
It soon becomes apparent that something is not quite right in their new town, specifically with the mothers and babies, as the women there have an unusually high rate of miscarriages. Diana begins to feel ill as well. She learns that the farm has been using pesticides for years which might be causing the miscarriages. However, the locals believe in something more supernatural, that there is a curse on the town and that Diana needs supernatural help to protect herself. Of course, Diana thinks that idea is ridiculous, until she begins to see strange horrific apparitions in her house, which she attributes to hallucinations because of her new mysterious illness.
Eventually, Diana and Beto discover that the truth is far more sinister than either one of these situations which leads to a disturbing ending, by far the best part of an otherwise weak horror movie.
The big reveal is a good one and is powerfully disturbing as well. But the problem is the rest of this movie isn’t about the big reveal. MADRES would have been a far more effective movie had it been marketed as a straight drama than as a horror movie. The subject matter uncovered in the film’s conclusion is what this entire film should have been about.
The horror movie elements here are pretty bad. The film isn’t scary, and its supposed shock scenes featuring Diana and the ghosts are pretty tame and tepid. Director Ryan Zaragoza could have at least tried to scare the audience.
The screenplay by Mario Miscione and Marcella Ochoa misses the mark entirely. With few supernatural sequences, and fewer scares, it fails as a horror movie, and since the big reveal doesn’t appear until the final reel, it doesn’t work as social commentary either.
My favorite performance belongs to Tenoch Huerta as hubby Beto. He comes off as a real person, he’s got a great sense of humor, and he remains a stand-up guy throughout. No cliche detours into two-timing or secretly-sinister husbands.
Ariana Guerra, on the other hand, as Diana, didn’t wow me as much. Actually, her performance is fine, but Diana is such a sour, negative person throughout that every time she’s on screen, which is a lot, I found myself not enjoying this one. For example, she finds fault with the locals even before they start acting weird and creepy. When Beto tries to socialize with the new townsfolk and his workers, Diana frowns, claiming they’re his friends, not hers.
Kerry Cahill enjoys a few chilling moments as Nurse Carol, making the most of her brief screen time as the latest in a long line of evil nurse tropes. Cahill’s very good though.
Joseph Garcia is solid as Beto’s boss Tomas. He exudes sincerity which makes his later transition all the more dramatic.
At first, it looked like MADRES was going for the same vibe as a couple of horror classics, ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) and THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975), but it never comes close to capturing the feel of those chillers.
In spite of a worthwhile reveal in the final reel, MADRES is a weak and largely forgettable horror movie that struggled to hold my interest for its brief 83 minutes running time.
Which is too bad because what happened to the mothers in this movie is horrible, and their story deserves to be told, but it will need to be told in a different movie because MADRES did a terrible job telling it.
The mothers deserve better.