(Spoiler warning, trigger warning for violence against POC.)
In theme with both the recent end of Hispanic heritage month and the upcoming spooky season, let's discuss Madres! I absolutely admire the story the film wanted to tell—I only wish all pieces of the end result were polished. That is to say, the material covered in this movie is so incredibly important. It's criminal how overlooked the topic is! I want to like this movie more than I do for that alone. But, there are some elements that make it lackluster.
Initially, I found Diana and Beto charming; in the first few minutes I thought they had nice chemistry. Soon enough though, I found this not to be the case as much. They’re somewhat dry with each other at times, and there’s certain scenes where I felt like Beto was a bit too unsupportive of his wife. Take for example when in an argument he accuses her of being a “white savior”. Yes, he was frustrated at that moment, but it’s obvious that it hits a nerve for Diana to have her Hispanic identity delegitimized. For something she's shown to be sensitive about throughout the narrative, it felt like a low blow. On that note, that factor was what sort of appealed to me about her character. I know firsthand the sting of rejection by those in your cultural community because you don’t align with what’s typical, ergo being white passing, not speaking the language, etc. Other than that, neither character is all that engaging, which makes for lower stakes if you don’t feel invested in them.
In general, much of the movie itself is slow and monotonous. (A friend I watched this with fell asleep during!) As a horror flick within itself, there's nothing exciting brought to the table. For a while, both the red herrings of the “pesticides” and “curse” work at throwing the viewer off. However, the reveal of the real cause of the symptoms being the poisoned agua fresca isn’t subtle. There’s this one scene where Diana and Beto are out at a community function to socialize with their new neighbors (this is where Diana is noticing how suspiciously common the women around her being ill/ having fertility problems is) and Beto’s boss Tomas (Joseph Garcia) gives them a large container of agua fresca to take home. The shot lingers on the liquid, and between that and the shots of Diana constantly drinking it throughout the run time, it doesn't make for a huge shock at the reveal.
What is scary about Madres is its subject matter. America has quite the history (as late as 2013!) of women of color undergoingtreatment sterilization unwillingly by state facilities. If this is your first time learning of this, you may be shocked. I was too! While you may roll your eyes at Madres' “based on real events” claim in the film's opening, it's the truth. While the story of the pesticides, the curse, and the poisoned agua fresca may not have happened verbatim, thousands upon thousands really were victimized in this way! That is what's truly unnerving. I don’t think this subject material is inherently unadaptable to the horror genre, but the flick does not do it justice. With tweaks to the plot and dialogue, Madres could've been the next racial horror masterpiece, in the same league as Get Out! It's a shame it didn't reach such potential.
As an Incluvie score, I rate Madres 5/5! The story is intertwined with Hispanic characters and culture. While Hispanic ethnicity is focused on in the film, it speaks on an issue that has overwhelmingly affected women of color in general. The narrative is almost exclusively female centered as it deals with issues of pregnancy, fertility, and forced sterilization.
As an overall rating, sadly I give Madres a 3/5. I wish I could give it a higher rating for the premise alone! Forced sterilization is an ugly atrocity people either aren’t aware of or are unwilling to talk about. For that, I applaud Madres for trying to highlight such an issue! Unfortunately, the mediocrity of this film keeps it from being a must-see watch. Instead, I would implore you to save yourself the hour and twenty three minutes and do some researching on the topic! There are many articles and video essays on the subject.