Focusing primarily on body horror and cult-esque mania, Matriarch feels like it is trying too hard at times. Though it can frequently come off as pretentious, I was actually into some of the freakier elements. For much of the runtime, we aren’t quite positive as to why Laura (Jemima Rooper, Flowers in the Attic: The Origin, The Black Dahlia) keeps bleeding, or what exactly is going on in her quaint, seemingly unchanging hometown. Once all is revealed though, I could not help feeling we have been there, done that in just about every post-Hereditary elevated horror wannabe. Matriarch tries hard to be worth one’s time by emphasizing gory delights and impressive creature design.
Laura works at a boring desk job, and spends most of her free time chugging alcohol, snorting things up her nose, and trying to form a real connection with her lesbian lover. After appearing to die from a cocaine overdose, Laura snaps back to life as the pool of blood she lies in gets sucked back into her mouth on the cold hard bathroom floor. Why has she been given a second chance? Matriarch does not spend enough time establishing Laura’s backstory before she receives a call from her mother, Celia (Kate Dickie, Game of Thrones, The Witch), setting up the film’s true intentions. Family dynamics are glazed over and only addressed as they become relevant, and Laura’s actual professional life seems like a footnote.
Celia, who Laura has not seen in twenty years, begs Laura to return home. It would appear that Celia is sick and dying; though she never physically hurt Laura, Celia’s brand of “just words” has caused potentially irreparable damage over the years. To Laura, Celia is still that same “evil narcissistic bitch” from years ago that grew all the more distant after the death of Laura’s father. I had a difficult time trying to get a grasp on the type of relationship that Celia and Laura had with one another. The people around town don’t seem to like either of them, with one fudge-maker in particular singling out Laura for stealing her fudge over the years. Like many other threads laid, this subplot doesn’t really go anywhere.
Laura is shown to her old room, and that is where she will stay while attempting to repair the relationship with Celia. At the very least, she will get to the bottom of a mysterious sickness that seems to be affecting the town. Writer/director Ben Steiner does not disguise the agenda of Celia, who constantly is trying to knock out her daughter or drag her somewhere. The true surprise lies in the goings-on of Celia after she leaves the house, but as I mentioned before, this element in particular felt overly familiar. Well before bloody worms, poisonings, and giant creatures come to play, Matriarch is a scatter-brained tale about a twisted town with an even more twisted mother/daughter duo at its center.
I am not quite sure who the audience is for this one in particular—Matriarch isn’t mean or operatic enough to satiate gorehounds, nor is it polished enough to appease fans of so-called “elevated horror.” Instead, what we are left with is a mixed bag of phenomenal performances that seem stuck in a rut. While I did appreciate the spectacle of the final fifteen minutes, it still does not make up for some of the other more glaring flaws.
Matriarch oozes goopy sickness when it debuts to Hulu on Friday, October 21st.