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SXSW Review: Madre

by Trey Hilburn III

Voodoo was something that bothered me as a kiddo. The idea that someone could be hurting you physically and mentally from the shadows is some pretty creepy stuff. I blame Serpent and the Rainbow and The Believers. Both told terrifying stories about otherworldly influencers that could break you down from the inside out, or the outside in.

In Madre, writer and director Aaron Burns, deals with the subject of witchcraft and the effects it has in a maternal setting. In his story, expecting mother, Diana (Daniela Ramirez) balances her pregnancy, her constantly out of town husband and her autistic son, Martin with growing difficulty.

Diana ends up bringing in, Luz (Aida), to help take care of her increasingly erratic son, Martin. Luz seems to have an uncanny ability to control Martin’s outbreaks and is overjoyed at first, but after things start getting seriously weird and Luz starts teaching Martin how to speak in her native tongue, Diana begins to question Luz’s motives.

Madre, has the same slow burn as a film like Rosemary’s Baby, it begins with well intent that ends up going off the rails and causes everyone to question Diana’s sanity. The more paranoid she becomes the more people stop believing her. The film, is carefully paced to make it so that at times makes even the audience doubt Diana’s sanity. Burns does a great job of dancing between those two possibilities and manages to create tension out of thin air because of it.

The film has a very polished digital look that embodies certain characteristics of a dark tele-novella. It brings about culture clashes as well. The actors and their language are primarily Chilean but Luz brining in a Filipino cultural connection. We have all seen, films about voodoo and have seen a pregnant woman begin to lose her mind, at the center of an evil agenda, but we haven’t seen it told through multiple cultural backgrounds and through a distorted tele-novella format. It makes for an interesting watch and something that is deeply insidious on its own terms.

Madre, also (with no spoilers) goes into interesting and unexpected places. If you think you know the genre and believe you know where they end, you are wrong. By combining all the elements mentioned above, Madre is able to pull of something raw, dark and nail-biting.

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