From: Silver Screen

REVIEW: ‘Madres’ is a mediocre horror film overshadowed by its disturbing true story

REVIEW: ‘Madres’ is a mediocre horror film overshadowed by its disturbing true story
Ariana Guerra as “Diana” in “Madres.”

With Halloween quickly approaching, Blumhouse Productions continues their spooky antics with “Madres,” directed by Ryan Zaragoza, the newest installation of their horror anthology series. Based on actual events, the film attempts to illuminate the truth behind a real-life horror story from 1970s Los Angeles.

The film opens up with a night terror: the main character, Diana (Ariana Guerra), is in a dark-lit room, carrying her child to the crib. An ethereal woman’s hum breaks the silence and a religious harmony begins, with beautiful stained glass shining behind the crib. There’s a bang in the background and Diana walks to the door. With a giggle of a child and the sound of crumbling soil, she whips around to find the baby gone and dirt overflowing from the crib. Diana starts digging profusely while crying out for her baby.

Cut to the 1970s, where we learn Diana has yet to have her child. She’s in the car with her husband Beto (Tenoch Huerta), who recently immigrated to the U.S. and is the new manager of a farm in rural California. Diana, born and raised in LA, is hesitant about the move. The night terror is a reminder for Diana to trust her senses and let the voices guide her.

Diana, an investigative journalist, is confused by the lack of children in the community. It is clear from the first moment she enters the hospital, despite the reassurance from the simpleton white doctor, that something sinister is lurking around each corner of the wing. Women scream in agonizing pain and it becomes apparent that the wives of the migrant workers are experiencing a curse of sorts. The voices of Latina women murdered from this malpractice hum in Diana’s ear the whole film and lead her closer and closer to uncovering the truth.

The movie is ambitious in the themes it tries to cover in its short 83-minute run time. It features Diana wrestling with her Latina identity, while not being able to speak or understand Spanish well, illegal immigration and the stigma it carries within this migrant community, as well as the issue of pesticide use on the land, what is initially thought to be the cause of the infertility. This is all while tackling colorism within the Latino community and lastly, and most importantly, the issue of nonconsensual sterilization of Latina women. It is only in the last few minutes that we learn this is the real reason why children are a rarity in the community. 

Arguably, this last issue should have been the most central idea of the film, given the gravity of the issue and the true events the movie refers to. Mexican mothers were coerced into sterilizations in LA during the 1960s and 1970s and took legal action in retaliation. With eugenics in mind, physicians took advantage of the language barrier and coerced Latina women into signing forms they couldn’t understand, according to Vice’s reporting. Drugs would also commonly be withheld during childbirth until forms were signed, which meant women were in delirious states and not able to give real consent. 

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“Madres” undervalues the issue and the way eugenics continues to figure heavily into immigration politics surrounding today. The many different subplots distract from the gravity of the issue. In fact, with all of the unnecessary directions it takes, the plot does not become clear until the very end. It becomes illuminated only when the women of the movie, situated in front of a screen with their projected medical records, share their stories of being forcibly sterilized in the hospital. 

Alternatively, “No Más Bebés” features women candidly talking about their experiences. In the documentary, the mother’s stories are not treated like a cheap horror gimmick. Instead these women take legal action against the events “Madres” discusses. “No Más Bebés” centers on the Madrigal v. Quilligan court case and includes testimony and memories from the 10 women who took a stand. All these women had been forcibly sterilized at the Los Angeles County + USC medical center and in 1978 they sued Dr. James Quilligan, the physician who oversaw this breach of ethics. The judge ultimately ruled in favor of the doctors, but the case led to increased awareness about issues of informed consent, although not enough as instances of forced sterilization occur.

With bad acting and off-putting shots, “Madres” doesn’t do justice to the shocking history it’s based on. A film that does is “No Más Bebés,” as the true story proves to be much more horrifying.

“Madres” was released on Amazon Prime Video on Oct. 8.

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