– By Dale Saxton
Madre is interesting. It’s a slightly different twist on the Rosemary’s Baby trope of ‘pregnancy paranoia horror’, with a few added social comments. And you’ll hear that comparison from many who’ll watch this, sometimes a good thing, other times not so much…
The film centres on Diana Prieto (Daniela Ramirez), who looks after her severely autistic son, Martin, during the late stages of her second pregnancy. With her Husband away on business (and possibly pleasure in a subplot), her main communication with him is through facetime. It’s fair to say she’s on her own, and you can feel the lack of support in their relationship.
With Martin becoming increasingly difficult to handle, and any Nanny hired quitting within a couple of days, she is almost at a loss. Until, a chance encounter with a supermarket worker, an older Filipino woman named Luz, who seemingly calms and deals with Martin like she’s done it her whole life. In fact, that isn’t far from the truth. She explains her son was also autistic, but over time she essentially cured him. Diana hires her on the spot and in turn stays at their house to help care for Martin and herself.
Things immediately improve. The difference in Martin is night and day. He’s verging on the life of normality, the childhood he deserves. But with all the good changes, Diana begins to notice other things.
Luz’s insistence on communicating with Martin in her native tongue, which Diana cannot speak, causes early suspicions. She downloads an app on her phone to translate their conversations and uncovers predictably awful things. The family dog goes missing, Martin starts drawing horrific pictures of dead animals and skulls (nothing new here), and Luz has stopped giving Martin his medication without consulting Diana.
All the while, Diana begins to feel physically worse day by day. Something more than morning sickness occurs. Her lips dry & crack and in one of the better moments, she pulls an insect from her ear.
It plays on social fears: Fear of the working class, fear of other cultures. But it only just gets away with it, without being distasteful. Based purely on Daniela Ramirez’s performance. She really is the lynchpin that holds the film together, giving a truly committed, engaging turn.
Sadly, it never truly feels horrific, more mildly thrilling. There’s visual potential that is squandered and I came away feeling no depth in the picture. It was flat, too little and much too late in the runtime. It never seems to embrace itself as a horror, and it’s surprising as writer/director Aaron Burns has worked closely with Eli Roth in the past. Nothing seems to have rubbed off. No boundaries ever felt pushed, or taken to the next level. Themes were explored and that was the extent of it.
For fans of Polanski’s pregnancy horror, it’s worth a watch. And to be honest for anybody else looking for a great lead horror performance, Daniela Ramirez delivers!
Just before it’s SXSW premiere, Netflix secured worldwide streaming rights, so they’re able to see it’s potential. That is the platform I would recommend people check it out on!