‘Madres’ star Ariana Guerra talks Latino experience and nuances of the horror genre

“A lot of the jump scares is the reality, the atrocities that have existed and that have happened. They’re super grounded in reality, and I think that’s what’s scariest,” says the McAllen native.

By Kristen CabreraOctober 15, 2021 12:25 pm, , ,

The new film “Madres” isn’t the bloody slasher type that many associate with the horror film genre. Its horror is rooted in the tribulations of daily life, especially for Latinos in America.

Actor and Rio Grande Valley native, Ariana Guerra, plays Diana. She tells Texas Standard the script reminded her of a “Mexican ‘Get Out.'” “Get Out” was the hit film by Jordan Peele that cleverly examined the legacy of slavery and racism through a modern-day horror plot.

Madres” centers around a Mexican American couple in the 1970s that is expecting their first child. The husband, Beto, is hired to live on and manage a farm where his wife Diana makes some horrifying discoveries.

Listen to the interview with Guerra in the audio player above or read the full transcript below to learn more about how Guerra finally got over her fear of horror films, and how it’s rare for horror films to be made by and about Latinos.

This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.

Texas Standard: Where did you grow up in the Rio Grande Valley, and how did you get into acting?

Ariana Guerra: I am from McAllen, Texas. Por la 9-5-6; shout out to the RGV! I was in McAllen for 18 years. Born and raised. And then the first time I left longer than a vacation was when I went to college at UT in Austin, actually. And since then, I’ve just been kind of moving wherever production and work is, and the pandemic brought me back. So I’m actually currently in Houston right now, but I try to make the trip back to the Valley as much as I can.

This isn’t the first time you’ve played in something spooky. You have a recurring role on a show on Hulu. Are you a horror buff, a scaredy cat or some somewhere in the middle? 

Guerra: Opposites attract in this particular situation. I am so scared of everything. I mean, to be completely transparent, even four years ago, I don’t think I could have watched a full trailer to some of the scariest movies. I hadn’t watched “The Shining” until I finally started booking “Helstrom,” and when I worked on this, I was like, alright, it’s time, I need to start watching “Rosemary’s Baby.” I got to watch “The Exorcist,” I got to watch just the classics. We got to get those out of the way. But yeah, I am not a horror fanatic. I think now, since I’ve worked on quite a few projects that are centric in horror, I have a lot of respect for it and I welcome any movie that can give me a good jump scare.

The genre is more nuanced than it’s sometimes made out to be, and this script, in particular, has a lot of depth. In a previous interview, you said it was really the script that drew you to this story. Why?

Guerra: When I first read the script, I remember just emailing my reps and telling them I need to be part of this. I saw that it was also written by or co-written by a Latina, which is rare. I’m not sure if I had also seen that our director was Latino. So that in itself is just super rare in Hollywood. And then the script reminded me of one of my favorite horror films, “Get Out.” So I was like, this is like the Mexican “Get Out.” I need to be part of this. I resonate with Diana. And I completely agree as far as the nuances that exist in horror, and it’s such a great medium to make content that wouldn’t be digestible for audiences to stomach. And that’s exactly what this project does because I don’t think this type of material could have been done if it wasn’t under the umbrella of horror, because the realities of it are terrifying for sure.

This is a movie that’s very much steeped in the Mexican American experience. And I guess that’s a big part of why you felt that you could connect with Diana, the character you play in this film. But at the same time, we’re talking about a mother.

Guerra: I do not have kids of my own. But I remember when I was preparing for this project, that was one of the biggest things that I wanted to make sure I told truthfully because when I spoke to my friends, when I was doing research, there’s there’s just kind of this throughline that every decision you make once you become a parent, it’s for your child. And I think Diana’s character is no different, especially as a first-time mother.

So that was a huge component of wanting to make sure that I was part of it and telling it truthfully. But to be honest, what resonated so much with Diana wasn’t so much the motherhood; it was how deeply ingrained this Mexican American experience was, and it wasn’t like a very superficial kind of like, let’s check off the quota for a story of Latino culture. It had this novel discussion that I don’t think is really talked about, and I’m so excited for the stories that are to come because of a project like this, where you have the discussion of identity within the Latino community because it is so diverse. Just like any other community, we aren’t just one hat fits all. And you see that with Diana and the comparison with her husband, Beto, who is Mexican. And that sort of range that you have really does kind of illustrate that we’re so similar in many ways, but also our experiences are very different.

And just to lean into that a little bit more, it seems like there’s a real tension between what it means to be Mexican American, right?

Guerra: Absolutely. I could honestly talk about this for hours because I find it so fascinating, especially because our identity is so interconnected with self esteem, with ego, with how we see the world. And you know, we live in Texas, which is one of the states that has, especially where I’m from, a predominant Hispanic population. So when I’ve spoken to other Chicanos or Latinos from the Midwest or from California or from New York, Atlanta, people who have immigrated here, the stories are very, very different. And it’s really cool. But it’s also interesting to see how so many people – especially if you are Latino, born and raised in the States – where there’s there’s going to come a point that you realize to a certain degree you’ve assimilated, and to another degree, you want to preserve that culture that your family, that your parents have tried to maintain. And I think that is probably for me the most interesting thing to see on screen.

I think one of the challenges especially when you’re doing a film is that some fans love it, but others may be squeamish or afraid. What do you tell them? 

Guerra: I wouldn’t even necessarily classify it as your typical horror film. Guys, I just want to preface, I am scared of everything. Truly, I could not watch a horror film to save my life for the longest time. And “Madres,” I wouldn’t consider the horror that you see to be your typical standard, gory, graphic sort of horror. A lot of the jump scares is the reality, the atrocities that have existed and that have happened. They’re super grounded in reality, and I think that’s what’s scariest. So I highly encourage people to watch it because there is a really impactful story behind all of the horror and the genre.