By: Jaimz Dillman
Settling in for Jenna Cato Bass' GOOD MADAM, I was excited to watch my first horror film from South Africa. I didn't know what to expect, and I think going in blind was good. A slow steady run of establishing scenery shots set the stage for something big to happen, a common trope.
Tsidi (Chumisa Cosa) is introduced to us as our character in trouble. But why? What is she running from with her young daughter in tow? Then we meet Mavis (Nosipho Mtebe), Tsidi's mother, taking in her daughter and granddaughter- in the house where she lives as a domestic servant to her ailing Madam Diane (Jennifer Boraine).
It's obvious from the start that mother and daughter have a strained relationship, and more mysteries are brought out about the big house and its owner. At every suspenseful held-out musical note and crescendo of chanting horror fans have come to expect the jump scare, gory kill, or screaming victim discovering the killer. That doesn't happen here. Actually, very little happens here. Yes, a story unfolds and we find out more about the reasons why things have happened to put everyone in their current situations, but there's not a lot of horror here. At leat, as far as what I've come to expect... And maybe that's the point?
As a psychological thriller, some supernatural elements leave you guessing if what's happening is real or in the character's mind. But it never really goes beyond that. There are a couple WTF moments when you think, "Oh! Okay, here we go - but, that's it. Yes, the argument can be made that the terror comes from the depicted class struggle and ongoing generational trauma, and I'm sure there's a place for that argument amidst those who have to dissect everything to death on the festival circuit. I'm just not one of those reviewers.
Give me some good death scenes, fun twists, and maybe even some demented killers, when you label a movie as horror. For me, GOOD MADAM is not it.
GOOD MADAM will be streaming on Shudder beginning July 14, 2022.