After the tragic loss of their newborn baby, a family retreat to a cabin in the woods to spend some time focusing on themselves to heal. Unfortunately, something is haunting those woods with them, and a similar tragic backstory has the spirit attracted to the family like a moth to a flame. 

If you want to do a classic cabin in the woods setup, both cabin and the woods need to bring their ‘A Game’. The woods are used to great effect here, enhanced from some industrial fog machines for bonus atmosphere. There’s a commendable texture to these environments normally neglected at such budgets, different layers of trees and ground cover being utilized creatively from the crew for a naturalistically rich backdrop. The cabin is pretty modern and rather pleasant overall, which was unexpected given the premise, yet this contrasted nicely with the paranormal elements. The family dynamic presented, however, is a strained one. The young son is determined to misbehave, the teen daughter just wants to text her friends, and the pushover father undermines the mother’s parenting, consequently turning her into the “bad guy” for the kids. Nothing huge or terrible, all pretty standard running for a regular family, but enough to seed conflict outside of the impending paranormal intrusion.

There’s good news and bad news about how scary Tarumama is as a horror. The good news is it can be scary, the bad news is that it isn’t trying this very often. While there are some good scares, they’re only really early and late in the run time. The middle portions of the movie have tension from the scenario playing out in both the family drama and the paranormal elements, but it’s not especially scary. This scarcity of spookiness is all in service of the plot, so it’s not so much a failure in storytelling as it is a disappointment when what frights we do get can be pretty good. The design of the ghost especially stands out as it appears alarmingly normal until you get a better look at it, making it all the creepier. Its facade of normality is an unnerving trap for the characters and it’s definitely not down to budget constraints going off the full details which become revealed. It’s a great choice that plays with the uncanny throwing off the viewer at first along with the characters.

Sometimes, it feels like Tarumama shouldn’t work at all. The lack of scares is a part of that, but there’s other little things. A lot of the time scenes feel over lit for what’s supposed to be night out in the woods, but there’s still some good build up despite that. It just feels odd if you stop to think about it. The small cast are all putting in solid work to sell the ultimately small story, with Paula Castaño as Sara especially standing out. She has to carry a lot of trauma for the character, and expresses a lot of heavy emotion.

Tarumama is a drama about family trauma that is very well lined up with the theme of the ghost, making this a satisfying example of using a haunting as a metaphor for dealing with the past. It will leave you wishing you had seen more of the ghost they created, but that in itself isn’t too bad a call compared to overexposing a horror monster. Save this one for when you’re ready for a slower paced drama focused film, but it will reward people in the right frame of mind for that style. 

We watched Tarumama as part of our Grimmfest coverage.

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