Good Madam - New Release Review
Director: Jenna Cato Bass
Starring: Chumisa Cosa, Nosipho Mtebe, Kamvalethu Jonas Reziya
Written by: Babalwa Baartman, Jenna Cato Bass, Chumisa Cosa, Chris Gxalaba, Khanyiso Kenqa, Steve Larter, Sizwe Ginger Lubengu, Nosipho Mtebe, Kamvalethu Jonas Raziya, Sanda Shandu, Siya Sikawuti, Peggy Tunyiswa
Produced by: Babalwa Baartman, Jenna Cato Bass, Krisitna Ceyton, Samantha Jennings
Cinematography by: Jenna Cato Bass
Original Score by: Simon Ratcliffe
When Tsidi is forced to move herself and her daughter in with her estranged mother, strange things begin to happen in the household. Her mother is a live-in servant of 'Madam' and Tsidi believes she doesn't belong there.
This South African supernatural thriller borrows elements from Jordan Peele's fantastic second feature film 'Get Out' and Remi Weekes superb 'His House' to further explore African history and mythology and cleverly mix it with spooky, metaphysical fundamentals. But it's a bit too muddled to really fully leave a mark.
That might be because it's credited with 12 writers, which is clearly never a positive thing and it's evident that the final act struggles a bit because of this. Director, writer and cinematographer Jenna Cato Bass does a really efficient job of not only making the film look lovely but also giving that sense of claustrophobia, which carefully adds to the viewers fears but also adds to the characters too. There's lots of amazing but gross close ups of seemingly normal and mundane objects and everyday activities associated with these objects like cleaning materials, characters scrubbing the floors, brushing their teeth, washing dishes. It sounds like boring stuff to watch but for those fleeting moments when the activities take place it's quite disturbing because it signifies the routinely vapid life that these live-in assistants actually live. And as we soon come to realise, it's not just a job or a calling, it's a necessity to survive.
Tsidi and her daughter Winnie have been forced to leave their shared housing to move in with Mavis after the death of Tsidi's grandmother. Mavis is Tsidi's mother but their relationship has been stretched thin over the years due to Mavis' allegiance to her "Madam" Diane, who she has been living with and looking after since Tsidi was a young girl. Diane is a rich, white woman who is now bedridden and close to death but Mavis' unwavering loyalty to her is habitually challenged by Tsidi, who sees the "job" as no more than black servitude. The more frequently Tsidi is outspoken the more Mavis fights back, claiming that Tsidi's argument stems from a place of disrespect.
When Tsidi and Winnie first move in we are reminded of the house rules, which seem quite simple and generic. However there are otherworldly rules in place here that are very much not simple or generic and Tsidi begins to believe that the house has it in for her and that she or her daughter definitely do not belong here.
'Good Madam' takes a while to get going but it defiantly lays the ground work early on insinuating that the hefty part of the plot will incorporate something to do with race and specifically apartheid. The horror elements are few and far between but are quite shocking with one scene in particular really giving me the creeps however it's a bit convoluted in how it approaches them. The cast are fine but the score is a bit overbearing at times and I would've preferred more subtle and often hints early on at what was coming in the final stretch so that the finale had more meaning.
- Gavin Logan
'Good Madam' is now available to stream exclusively on Shudder