Good Madam on Shudder

A South African psychological horror film which screened at TIFF 2021. This is a horror that, much like Jordan Peele’s, aims to show how horror can also bring subjects like race and inequality to the table. Yes, it is ambitious. No, it isn’t an easy thing to do. Director Jenna Cato Bass (Neighbors, Flatland), who also co-write the script, aims high with Good Madam (Mlungu Wam)…maybe a little too high.

Social commentary and horror and not two easy genres to mesh. Throw in generational trauma and you got a lot. A lot of balls to juggle. Lots of them hit the ground hard here.

Single mother Tsidi (Chumisa Cosa – first feature film) has to move in with her mother. The daughter and mother are estranged so this is really not a comfortable situation. Her mother Mavis (Nosipho Mtebe – first film) works as a live in domestic worker at the house of an older white woman in a rich suburb of Cape Town. The Madam is catatonic. Mavis obsessively takes care of the woman. All Tsidi can think of is making her own family better but all become distracted by an evil entity in the house.

Sometimes it is the most ordinary things which are the scariest. Here the sound of water boiling and doors closing become things that raise the tension level. Darkness, oh the darkness. You know something is about to happen and it ain’t gonna be good. There is a lack of fluidity and coherence in the story throughout the film.

Then there is the problem of the decisions made by director Cato Bass. The visuals are awful. All black characters are often reduced to body parts rather than flesh and blood people. Objects rather than people we should care about. Even the shots of inanimate objects verge on the edge of awkward.

Even the supernatural aspects of the film are made more complex than is necessary. Totally muddies the waters and takes the focus away from where it should be.

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