Blumhouse’s ‘Madres’ Terrifies Audiences into Caring about Reproductive Rights.
I knew the film was going to have a deep, and innovative twist after reading Jason Blum’s comment in the chat. He said the movie was a good one and that twist in the end surprised him. The chat and film were a part of a virtual screening of the latest Blumhouse film for Amazon Prime, Madres. The title is Spanish for “mothers”. I knew that much. But Blum is the man behind some of the most frightening films in recent history, (who is also a straight white guy) what could possibly surprise him in a film about Mexican mothers?
A Story That Slowly Sucks You In
Therein lies the genius of the film. Set in the 1970s, Madres follows Diana (Ariana Guerra) as she struggles to settle into a new home. The woman is obviously pregnant and not used to having free time. She is a journalist who is now looking at life as a mom. Her boring life doesn’t stay that way long. There is something stalking Diana and her husband Beto (Tenoch Heurta). It’s a ghost of the previous tenant. And she is after Diana.
The local bruja tries to help by offering traditional products that ward off evil and fire rituals that protect the family. Nothing works. Meanwhile, Diana gets a weird rash that sends her to the local doctor. Dr. Bell (Robert Larriviere) seems like a country doc, with his white hair and laidback demeanor. He is kind and really cares for Diana and the other women in his small hospital/clinic. At home, Diana refuses any help from traditional medicine.
Too Far Gone to Notice the Message
I won’t get into the rest to prevent spoilers, but I will say that by the time the ghost ramps up her “visits,” the film has its claws in. Diana’s investigative side draws the audience deeper into the plot that is more socially charged and relevant than an episode of Gentified. The moment when Diana discovers what really happened and who did what to whom, is not an exposition. It is a moment that is first mournful before the twist that will shake up many in the audience. There is an obvious, unmistakable message here that most won’t realize until the film is nearly over.
Others will identify the social relevance, but just long enough to register that knowledge before Madres throws in another hook. The message is now a part of the intrigue and not a debatable talking point on the nightly news. In Madres, the horror is having no say about ones own reproductive rights (the main character is a pregnant woman, so that’s not a spoiler).
We all become concerned about Diana’s uterus without even realizing it. The film makes you root for repro rights whether you believe in them or not. It uses terrifying elements of horror—haunting, traditional vs modern medicine tropes, and superstition, for example–to mimic the feeling of being silenced and having no choice about what happens to your body.
The Heart of the Matter and the Movie
The genius of Madres is that the film takes all of the politics and problems out of the issue of women rights to reproductive health. It provides both a stealth lesson and an education about the topic and we get it from the same POV through which we are experiencing the movie. So even straight white guys get to feel that terror, anger, sadness, and finally helplessness that women of color have been carrying for generations.
The final plot twist at that point almost feels personal, making me holler out, “OH, HELL NO!” You will know the moment when you see it. One of the scenes before that which really punches the heart humanizes the stories of women who have suffered. Director Ryan Zaragoza deserves high praise for his cinematic strategy for “bringing statistics to life”. The whole scene is haunting and unforgettable. It’s also the point of Madres.
We can discuss that more when you’ve seen the film. My purpose for writing this is to put the film on your radar, dear reader. Madres is more than a film about Mexican mothers. It’s an immersive experience that will leave you fully aware of the reproductive rights problem. Zaragoza slides in some information just before the credits that will send many of you into action.
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Jonita Davis is a mom of six (ages 23 to 4), writer, film critic, and professor who writes about our culture from all angles. Her work appears in several publications, including Washington Post, Yes! Magazine, Vox, The Fix, Today’s Parent, Zora, Syfy Wire, The Guardian, and so many others. You can see her work on TheBlackCape.com. or view her portfolio on Muck Rack. Follow Jonita on Twitter. Follow The Black CAPE on Twitter.