Building tension is par for the course in a horror film. Filmmaker Ryan Zaragoza diligently does this in Madres. Sadly though, he goes overboard, and his focus on generating and sustaining tension overpowers his duty to scare us while telling an intriguing story.
Horror, after all, is all about making us jump out of our seats after a prolonged stretch of deception and anticipation. Madres succeeds in creating anticipation, but the scares are so subdued that you start questioning whether the filmmaker even intended to scare us in the first place.
The 83-minute film's plot is as old as the hills. Set in the '70s, a Mexican-American couple moves to a farming community in California with hopes for a better future. Their home is, naturally, cut off from the rest of the community.
The husband, Beto (Tenoch Huerta), works as a manager, a designation none from his family has ever held before, in the local plantation, and the pesticides being used there seem to affect his pregnant wife, Diana (Ariana Guerra). Diana also learns that the previous tenants of the house have left their belongings and it all adds to the creepiness around them - so far, so good.
Now, the film could have played with this eerie setting and plot in a dozen different ways but it chooses to be a sober, mirthless imitation of numerous horror films we have seen over the years. Throw a stone at a scene and chances are, you have already seen a superior iteration in another horror film. Take, for instance, the usage of a music box, reminiscent of The Conjuring.
The rural setting, which screams that there are dark secrets beneath the seclusion, reminds me of an episode from the terrific horror anthology, Bloodride. What exalted these aforementioned films is the pay-off they gave with moments of genuine shock and surprise.
Madres, on the other hand, is entirely dedicated to characters walking in grim hallways, looking out of windows, staring at each other... you get the idea, right? For once, I wished a horror film threw bland jump-scares just to keep us occupied.
The film acknowledges real tragedies and injustice inflicted upon Mexican immigrants, and that’s when you see what it could have been with better writing and focus. Madres could have been a companion piece to the politically charged Get Out and it has great intentions. Good intentions alone unfortunately aren’t enough, when the writing is as unimaginative.
Director: Ryan Zaragoza
Platform: Amazon Prime Video