The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.Joseph Conrad
The latest in Amazon & Blumhouse’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” anthology, Madres opens with the above quote about darkness that pervades the human race. Conrad’s quote is meant to guide our viewing of the film’s narrative, but it also serves as a meta analysis of director Ryan Zaragoza’s feature. Madres has the potential to be a gripping thriller about the real evil that lucks in small town America, but is far too concerned with developing a horror tone that the film’s message becomes lost.
Inspired by true events, Madres follows Diana (Ariana Guerra) and Beto (Tenoch Huerta), a young couple who move from L.A. to a small town so that they have a stable home for their soon-to-be born child. Once there though, they encounter strange visions and a community that may be covering up a wicked conspiracy. A small town in the 70s with a dark secret is ample ground for a gripping social thriller.
Yet the film spends far too much of its runtime trying to use exposition to build character rather than letting horror of the actual events speak for themselves. The few attempts to add traditional horror elements in the first two thirds of the film, like a lone eyeball or a creepy music box, end up being as haunting as a Spirit Halloween store. Due to an inability to commit to a specific tone, Madres at times is as though Lifetime tried to remake the Mark Ruffalo, Flint water crisis film, Dark Waters.
The last twenty minutes of the feature is gripping and shocking just like the best social thrillers. My mouth was actually agape as the credits began to roll. Unfortunately, the rest of Madres is so incredibly dry and visually lacking that many will likely pause and move onto the next streaming feature of the week before witnessing the heartbreaking conclusion.
The Silver Lining
While the cinematography may be nothing special, the overall yellowish tones of Madres is a smart creative decision. These tones give the impression that the film is worn and outdated, which reflects the decrepit nature of Diana & Beto’s new house. It also gives the impression that the film was shot in the 1970s, aligning with the time period Madres is set in.
Madres is now streaming on Amazon Prime.