By ROCCO T. THOMPSON
An expectant couple experience strange symptoms and terrifying visions that threaten their new family in MADRES, Ryan Zaragoza‘s entry in Amazon Prime‘s Welcome to the Blumhouse film series.
Written by Marcella Ochoa and Mario Miscione based on tragic real-life events, MADRES tells the story of Beto (Tenoch Huerta, The Forever Purge) and Diana (Ariana Guerra, Helstrom), a young Mexican-American couple expecting their first child, who move to a small town in 1970s California where Beto has been offered a job managing a farm. Isolated from the community and plagued by confusing nightmares, Diana explores the rundown company ranch where they reside, finding a grisly talisman and a box containing the belongings of the previous residents. Her discoveries will lead her to a truth much stranger and more terrifying than she could have possibly imagined.
Ahead of the film’s release, we caught up with Ariana Guerra who told us how she trained herself to sit through scary movies, what she makes of the representation of marginalized communities in the genre, and how she personally resonated with Ochoa and Miscione’s portrayal of the Mexican-American experience.
I know you did a lot of research for this role. Can you tell me a bit about the process of building this character?
Diana, when I first read the script, I resonated a lot with her in particular, because she’s Chicana, she has this sort of… I think it’s an identity, confrontation, or crisis, however you want to see it, where she’s really having to figure out how much of the American and Mexican culture she wants to preserve and assimilate into. I think I had a shared experience, where growing up in a border town, we are heavily inspired by our Mexican culture, but being 15 minutes north of the border, [made] it so that I read [and] listened to American content. I grew up on that. I only really spoke English in the house. So, I think Diana’s character was very easy for me to really figure out where I wanted her to live, and there were certain personality traits that I think I needed to dial up or down. She is so much braver than me, for sure. I’m not that courageous. But the most challenging component, I think, was playing a pregnant mom, which is not my first time! The last project I was the mother of a demon baby, no big deal. [Laughs]
I think I respect and value motherhood and this concept of pregnancy, and I wanted to physically and emotionally play it as authentic as possible. What’s so interesting is when I was doing the research for it online, these videos would come up, and it’s just these glammed out beautiful mothers with their babies, and [they’re like], “It was so hard, but it was so worth it.” And then you talk to actual women, like my friends and my family members, people that have just had kids who were pregnant currently, and the experience, it feels almost 180, because there’s such a rawness to it that really isn’t shared as much as it should be. I remember some of my friends really disclosing information about how they felt as being a bad mom, or just having to go through the process of a new body and not knowing if they were going to be fully equipped to take care of a child. I mean, they were sharing information that they hadn’t shared with their partner, which is crazy to me. But I really do think that, for me, it was so important to just accurately showcase what it’s like to be a first-time mom, and then allow the physicality to help with illustrating that too.
You’re no stranger to the genre, obviously, but do you consider yourself a horror fan?
No, absolutely not. I couldn’t even watch a trailer of any horror film until I started booking this. I mean, it had got to a point where it took steps for me to start watching scary movies. I remember trying to watch The Shining at least three times. There was something about, I remember, the kid talking to himself in the mirror, and I was like, “This is just so demented. I can’t do this.” So, what I would do to slowly, incrementally get myself into being able to watch these films was turn off the music and just watch the scenes, and I was like, “Okay, that’s not too bad.” And then slowly, but surely, I was able to complete a lot of horror films, because you realize, “Okay, that’s fake. That blood is not real. This person is just trying to pay their mortgage. It’s okay.”
The music is what really gets you, so that’s a smart approach!
Yes, it really is! I’m not even kidding. To this day, I don’t think I get scared anymore, and I actually welcome horror films. Blumhouse films, to me, are probably some of my favorite horror films, because they are rooted in such realistic horror that I think makes it that much scarier. I loved Get Out, Hereditary, even though it was a little more crazy, but there are people that believe in satanic whatever. So, I welcome it now, but I would not consider myself a horror fan. I did not grow up loving this stuff – I ran away from it as much as I could! [Laughs]
Have you seen MADRES since it was finished?
I have. Actually, I watched it for the first time with my mom, who I think is really just the demographic – this is your target audience, a middle-aged Latina woman. It was obviously her favorite movie for very biased reasons, but it was so interesting to see her relate to this experience, to the characters, and she would bring up stories that happened. Because it was a horror, I think made it even more entertaining to watch with her, because I didn’t know what her reaction would be. Then, I watched it with an audience for the first time at a screening in LA, and it was a lot funnier than I expected, especially at the beginning, which is so cool. Both experiences were very interesting, but I think the reactions are positive, and yeah, I love the work that Ryan did for sure.
Did the scares work on you, even though you knew what they were and where they were coming from?
I think the music is what scared me the most. Our composers were really so talented, but I knew. I had worked on this for a couple months. I read the script. I remember how I felt during certain shots, so I was thinking more of that.
But, even as someone who is not super drawn to horror movies, working on a horror movie isn’t a scary experience, right?
Yeah, which is wild, because we shot in New Orleans, which is historically known to be very scary, creepy…a lot of Voodoo energies. But no, shooting this one, especially because it was during COVID, it was so safe. They were really restrictive, thankfully. There was never a moment that I felt unsafe, [or] that I had some energy to try to speak to me, no doors closed, no lights flickered. The experience overall was super great and no horror stories, unfortunately. [Laughs]
Your costar, Tenoch Huerta, has recently become familiar to horror fans because of his role in THE FOREVER PURGE. Can you tell us a bit about working with him?
I mean, how much time do we have? I love Tenoch. He’s such a giving actor, and you can just see it in his performance. He’s so free, and that helps a lot with me feeling like I have a safe space to make mistakes, to make bold choices, and know that he’s there to really take care of me. But all of that aside, Tenoch himself is just such an incredible person. He’s so fucking cool, just so down to earth, and that helps a lot with just the chemistry when we do shoot. [He’s a] ten out of ten. Tenoch is like an actor’s dream to work with, for sure.
Marginalized voices are really coming to the forefront these days in horror. How do you think that Mexican-American perspective is presented in MADRES and, in a broader context, in horror in general?
It’s crazy to have to come to terms with that, but you’re right, within the last five years, there’s just been so much diverse casting, and to the extent that it is to just appease the audiences who were demanding it, or because they genuinely care…I can’t tell you, but I’m here to ride this wave. It’s super exciting to see that, forcibly, or on their own accord, [studios] are producing really diverse content, because it is so important.
The most exciting thing to me about this project is not the story of immigrants, of migrant workers, and not because it isn’t important to me, especially being from a border town. Farm work exploitation, race relations, all these things are definitely a topic of discussion. Immigration is huge, especially right now in the Rio Grande Valley. So, these things are very important to me, but that experience that I resonate with is not the experience for other Latinos, especially Chicanos or second, third, fifth-generation Latinos who grew up much more assimilated. I think the most interesting component for me, as far as the Latino narrative goes, is showcasing the spectrum that exists within the community with the two protagonists. Diana is Chicana. She doesn’t speak Spanish. Tenoch is Mexican. His first language is Spanish. Even the term Latino is so encompassing of so many countries and territories and people. So that, to me, is I hope the direction that we go, where we begin to showcase the diversity within a diverse community.
What do you hope audiences take away from MADRES?
Look, I’m not here to project what I think it should or shouldn’t do. I know what it did for me, and I was extremely impacted by the message, by the story, which I did not particularly know of, to be honest. Am I surprised? No. I knew about the eugenics project, but this particular case or cases that happened in LA in the ’70s, I wasn’t familiar with. It just, for me, served as a reminder that I have to continue to fight the good fight in whatever shape or form that is. I think it’s super important to get involved in your local community. It’s easier for me, because my hometown happens to be where a bunch of Mexicans are, so I’m like, “Let’s do work here.” [Laughs] But yeah, representation is important. Making content that is of diverse voices is important, but if we don’t make the changes or don’t actively try to affect real change that can impact people outside of the industry, is it all in vain? I don’t know.
MADRES is available on Amazon Prime Friday, October 8th 2021.