MADRES is a horror film directed by Ryan Zaragoza, starring Ariana Guerra (Diana), Tenoch Huerta (Beto), Elpidia Carillo (Anita), Evelyn Gonzalez (Marisol), Joseph Garcia (Tomas), Robert Larriviere (Dr. Bell), and Kerry Cahill (Nurse Carol). It is written by Marcella Ochoa (Discarnate) and Mario Miscione (Discarnate) and it is being released as part of the Welcome To The Blumhouse series of horror films produced by Blumhouse and released as streaming titles on Amazon as Amazon Originals.
The film is set in the 1970s and really plays the shell game for a while with its intentions and the source of the horror. It addresses many issues that confront a certain type of Latina woman, known as “pochas,” in the state of California. A pocho or a pocha is a person of Mexican descent who is considered not Mexican enough. There is a strange quandary that exists for pochos because they don’t speak Spanish and if they have light skin they are frequently mistaken for or accused of being White. You exist in a weird place within the culture of Chicanos and Mexicanos in the state. You can’t understand people who only speak Spanish, people who are bilingual don’t like you, and you are sometimes mocked for the choices made by your family to not teach you Spanish as a child.
Diana is pregnant and exists in this grey area for Latina women. She has a husband Beto, who is bilingual and has an accent, played by MVP Tenoch Huerta, in an excellent casting choice. They have relocated to California’s Central Valley, an agricultural hub, where they can have a house of their own to raise their child, and Beto can work as a supervisor and advance his career. The house is a fixer-upper, but both Diana and Beto are happy to have this seemingly good opportunity to get a fresh start.
The film rather slowly dances around the real horror and you do have to stick with it past a number of red herrings. But even the red herrings and the number of different themes are relevant to its ultimate reveal. How Latino culture treats women, especially women who don’t adhere to the culture’s standards that are quite judgmental. The issue of pesticides and their effects on pregnant women in the Central Valley and, by extension, all agricultural workers who are largely Latinos. The role of brujeria and belief in the supernatural in Latino culture. The film does a great job of humanizing Latinos, especially farmworkers and residents of the Central Valley, and showing that they really aren’t that much different from anyone else even though they are frequently cast as demons and criminals in the anti-immigrant fanatics on the right. It gives them the simple dignity that is frequently denied to them.
The film really concentrates on the pregnant woman as a very vulnerable person. When you are pregnant and as a woman, people, especially men and especially medical personnel, don’t take you seriously. Pregnant women are thought to be in the grip of hormones and this gives a lot of people carte blanche to act as if pregnant women are hysterics who are not to be believed. What the film does quite well is weaving a web around the character of Diana where she is being gaslit by everyone, even her loved ones. The time period is the 1970s so there’s the time period’s built-in chauvinism against women, but being pregnant puts you in a special category of being treated as if you are not rational. Diana’s character is strong-minded and intellectual which is a detriment on both sides. White people look at her like she’s not their equal no matter what and Mexican Latinos can’t relate to her and think of her as White. They think of her as someone who doesn’t belong and it adds an extra layer to her personal horror. She is not understood by her people which leads to them showing contempt for her by calling her White. She’s being othered from her own culture for things she can’t change and choices she didn’t make. It’s very hurtful and isolating to be treated by your own people that way. I know. Diana is a journalist and a fixer. When she sees a problem, she starts to investigate it and wants to fix the problem, which leads to tension with Beto and Anita.
When the true evil is revealed, the movie really kicks into overdrive.
California is thought of as a very liberal state, but did you know that from 1909 to 1979, California passed a law that was essentially a state-sanctioned eugenics program to sterilize human beings who the state judged to be unfit to reproduce? Many of these sterilizations were performed without consent and some were performed on children as young as 13. An overwhelming number of these sterilizations were performed on Latinos.
We’re dangerous vermin who need to be prevented from breeding by our superiors, you see. Ethnic cleansing comes in many different forms.
I have written before about how Hitler and his Nazis admired and coveted the state of California, but here’s another reason why. California was actually the third state to pass a sterilization law based on the concept of Eugenics, but our state was also a center of eugenicist thought. You can read about that here. You may be shocked at exactly who supported these ideas and who was complicit in it. There’s a lot of big names in that article. The irony is that the White racists and fascists of today are again projecting their own evil back onto us with their promotion of the Great Replacement. They run around screaming about “White Genocide” when it is people like them who actually used ethnic cleansing in the United States repeatedly.
The performances in the film are all good, Tenoch Huerta is working at his usual excellent level. Ariana Guerra does great work as Diana. Elpidia Carrillo makes her mark as she has for decades as a fine actress, and Evelyn Gonzalez stands out in a touching role that asks her to morph from darkness to beauty in the light. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the villains in this film are exaggerated. What is portrayed by the actors in the roles are accurate and their performances are insidious with the evil of the kind of person who believes that they are doing the right thing and just doing their job while performing acts of monstrous evil.
MADRES packs a wallop and takes you through a number of different social issues before finally landing on the true evil. It’s a realistic and real-life evil that is all the more horrible because it’s true. Loaded with terrific performances by the Latino leads, it tells a story that needs to be told because this really hasn’t stopped happening, that case happened last year in an ICE facility in Georgia, and these racists don’t just sterilize Latinos.
MADRES is now available for viewing on Amazon Prime Video as part of their Welcome to the Blumhouse film series.