Outstanding performances and an effective sound design drive up the entertainment factor in Shudder’s intensely unsettling original.
Films centered around generational trauma with respect to the lasting effects of slavery have had their fair share of display in Hollywood. Often, these films venture into the exploitative for entertainment’s sake. South African writer/director Jenna Cato Bass (Flatland and High Fantasy) wishes to change that. In her latest chilling and disturbing horror feature Good Madam, Bass blends folklore with familiar societal horrors to explore persistent traumas inherent to South African culture. While it doesn’t always stick the landing in delivering key messages, outstanding performances and an effective sound design drive up the entertainment factor in this intensely unsettling Shudder original.
The story follows single parent Tsidi (Chumisa Cosa), who wants to do right by her young daughter Winnie (Kamvalethu Jonas Raziya). Unfortunately for the pair that means moving in with Tsidi’s mother Mavis due to dire financial circumstances and a broken relationship with Winnie’s father Luthando (Khanyiso Kenqa). Forced to abide by strict rules like ‘no running’ or ‘going into the refrigerator without permission,’ Tsidi digs deep to swallow her pride to be able to provide for her daughter. But when Mavis’s overbearing obsession for caring after her white ‘Madam’ reaches new heights, that pushes Tsidi towards finding an alternative living situation. She’ll just have to overcome a sinister force that aims to keep her there by any means necessary.
Good Madam is chilling
Good Madam is the type of horror film that leaves a lasting impression long after its short 92-minute runtime. The tie-in of real-world experiences with intricate paranormal activity to navigate generational trauma is creativity at its best. In these moments, writer-director Bass weaves in flashes of unnerving imagery to proactively warn viewers of Tsidi’s potential fate. Yet, she balances these overt visual cues with successful scene transitions from film editor Jacques de Villiers to keep audiences guessing on what’s real or a figment of Tsidi’s imagination. It’s a compelling strategy that masterfully blends its slow burn appeal with fast-paced classic horror sequences.
Often, the script bites off more than it can chew as it doesn’t dive deep into an explanation regarding the evil presence inhabiting Madam’s house. Yet so much of what viewers will experience depends on that very same specter. Perhaps it’s a sign of too many writers in the room as the film credits twelve—most of whom also star in the feature. But it’s an important missing piece that would have elevated this script to skilled territory.
In lieu of those details, however, lies an underlying story about the mending of a mother-daughter relationship. It’s endearing and sweet, and it provides much-needed emotional breaks from the constant trauma that the characters experience. Chumisa Cosa as Tsidi is intentional with every word and movement. The script requires Cosa to tap into a spectrum of emotions, and she delivers on each one beautifully. Nosipho Mtebe plays her mother Mavis. While more reserved, Mtebe’s performance is deliberately cold at first before she begins to trust her daughter. In these moments, she delivers as a strict South African mother who just wants to provide for her family.
Chumisa Cosa delivers a great performance.
Despite the limitations of its script, Good Madam boasts several technical achievements that warrant celebration. Cato Bass’ cinematography is gripping, for one. She strategically holds onto shots for a little too long to increase the discomfort that is destined to take over audiences. The pacing is great here, too, where meticulous horror sequences break up those long slow-burn scenes. However, the best triumph of this feature is its sound design. Simon Ratcliffe’s paralyzing score interlaces with desperate chanting and gloom. It pairs well with the scenes that rely on the sounds of bones breaking or brushes scrubbing the floors. Truly, the filmmakers provided a masterclass in setting the ambiance in horror.
Jenna Cato Bass’ creepy and entertaining horror feature Good Madam isn’t always perfect. But it’s exactly the kind of Shudder film that audiences crave. It’s alarming for all the right reasons with a cast that delivers emotionally compelling performances. Even underneath its half-baked script is a story about a mother and daughter fighting through generational trauma to heal their broken relationship. And with strong technical victories that intensify the watching experience, viewers can expect a thrilling night of terror.
Check out the trailer for Good Madam — on Shudder now!