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Friday, September 10, 2021

[TIFF Review] ‘Mlungu Wam (Good Madam)’ Haunts With Murky, Eerie Reflection of the Past

South African psychological horror Mlungu Wam (Good Madam) uses an intimate character study nestled in a possibly haunted house as an allegory. It wields one stubborn and unreliable narrator as an entry point into a cultural examination and a haunted legacy. Yet, largely thanks to its obscure ambiguity and intimate storytelling, it never feels heavy-handed in its social deconstruction. Instead, it’s a slow build of psychological and supernatural horror that sometimes confuses but always engages.

Tsidi (Chumisa Cosa) just lost her grandmother, the woman who raised her. She and her daughter, Winnie (Kamvalethu Jonas Raziya), are forced to stay with Tsidi’s estranged birth mother, Mavis (Nosipho Mtebe). Mavis has lived and worked in the home of a wealthy Cape Town suburbanite Diane (Jennifer Boraine) for most of Tsidi’s life. The house is far more eerie and unwelcoming than Tsidi remembers it from childhood. Diane remains bedridden and ill, and Mavis seems far more attached to her “madam” than ever, a little too much. The more Tsidi tries to intervene, the more it seems that she’s stirred something malevolent within the home.

Directed by Jenna Cato BassGood Madam keeps its focus on Tsidi. The entire story is framed through her perspective. Our early introductions to Tsidi are chaotic; she’s combative with nearly everyone around her. Disagreements with family members in the wake of their loss spurn hasty decisions, the unruliness of her daughter can occasionally frazzle her, and she’s very dismissive of Winnie’s father. Then she’s pushy with Mavis in every way, especially when it comes to manners and breaking the rules of the house. It presents Tsidi as an unreliable character and sets up the psychological horror. Is what’s happening around the house all in her mind as life’s stresses wear her down?

An obscure past with the house further exacerbates it. Flashes of menacing imagery, via strobing effect, tease bad memories from childhood. But Bass and the twelve credited writers of the screenplay don’t dole out answers easily, keeping it all close to the vest as long as possible. The focus on Tsidi’s conflicts and the stress it causes present a scenario of a woman potentially coming undone. Seeing a long-deceased dog roam the halls, one that tormented Tsidi as a child, could be a manifestation of repressed trauma or something else entirely.

How Bass builds Tsidi’s story, the house’s mystery, and the various social issues isn’t always the most coherent. Especially with quick cuts across time and memory. Not everything gets explained, either. A quietly spoken reading of a loose page found in a book requires extreme focus to unlock critical clues. Bass goes all-in on the horror with the climax, but the explanation behind the potent imagery is symbolic rather than concise storytelling.

In many ways, Good Madam gets unwieldy in just how much it’s trying to convey with such a small-scaled story. It’s a modern tale that wants to highlight the lingering effects of apartheid long after it ended, using Tsidi as a reflection. Tsidi’s unraveling and family woes keep it grounded and engaging, even when the horror bides its time in making its grand entrance. Cosa keeps Tsidi likable even when she lashes out, and it’s her ability to keep you constantly guessing how much of what she’s experiencing is real or not that retains investment. Even at its messiest, Good Madam excels at character work and building psychological horror around it.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3682418/tiff-review-mlungu-wam-good-madam-haunts-murky-eerie-reflection-past/

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