Film Reviews:

The Dead Mother / La Madre Muerta

(Juanma Bajo Ulloa, Spain, 1993)

The Dead Mother posterBajo Ulloa's powerfully dramatic story of a compulsive killer who shoots a woman only to meet her orphaned daughter years later is an emotionally moving and intelligent dark thriller. Egged on by his obsessive girlfriend, the burglar kidnaps the girl with the intention of killing her, but when he discovers she is brain damaged and cannot speak he finds the thought of murdering her more difficult. Keeping her captive, they continue their inhumane killing spree, often cruelly dispatching their quarry in front of her. As more time passes, the killer finds the idea of adding the orphan to their list of victims increasingly difficult. His jealous girlfriend however, doesn't share his reservations.

The Dead Mother is a striking film for many reasons. The performances are excellent and create the kind of grittily realistic characters you might find in a Mike Leigh film - only more brutal. Throwing themselves into their roles with such conviction it's easy to forget that they are acting. The direction is confident and and remarkably effective, managing to draw extreme emotions out of you with ease. There are some subtle but nice character touches like when the girlfriend (who always dresses in tarty underwear in a desperate attempt to keep her boyfriend's interest) suggests asking for a ransom for the girl and her boyfriend instead suggests that she goes whoring on the streets.

There's something relentless about their lifestyle and the film's portrayal of it that makes me think of Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer, or it's a bit like the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs stuck in a loop. Bajo Ulloa is interested in the schizophrenic personalities of his characters and the broken mirrors, high contrast paintings and cracks in walls all provide visual metaphors to support this. The entire package is first class, from the memorable early image of the killer holding a gun to the girl's head, to Bingen Mendizabal's moving soundtrack. The audience I saw it with sat mesmerised through all the credits and left in silence - testament to the impact of this terrific Spanish thriller. 8/10

Rob Dyer

See also:

Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer

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