Matriarch is hindered by painful overacting and a weak script but contains some decent special effects work and a wild ending that surpasses its low-budget limitations.
This review of the Hulu horror film Matriarch does not contain spoilers.
Anyone who has seen a fair amount of horror movies would not be blamed for thinking that the British countryside is home to crazed cults, gun-wielding farmers, and deranged serial killers. Matriarch isn’t going to change moviegoers’ minds on that quintessential horror trope, in fact, it completely leans into it as a sinister mystery starts to unfold within a quaint, rural village. Ben Steiner’s low-budget horror flick, premiering on Hulu this Halloween, takes office worker Laura (Jemima Rooper) out of the big city and plants her in the grim outdoors, where new horrors await.
The film centers on Laura, an alcoholic embarking on a destructive path who seems to alienate everyone around her. She hasn’t been back home in twenty years but finds herself drawn to this rustic village after an overdose that nearly killed her and one phone call from her mother. The mother in question and the matriarch of the film’s title is Celia, played by Kate Dickie (Game of Thrones). A nasty woman who caused Laura to flee in the first place. This creepy, controlling mother starts to drug her own daughter as soon as she steps foot inside the family home and even has an old friend of Laura’s follow her for good measure.
After her overdose, Laura starts to bleed black blood and watches as this disease slowly takes a hold of her body. Worried for her own mortality, she investigates the strange goings on within the village and searches for a cure. The film seems to be trying to replicate The Wicker Man and An American Werewolf in London, with folksy horror vibes. Everyone seems to be hiding a collective secret while harboring their own illnesses and the locals are needlessly hostile toward Laura at every turn. Unable to bring herself to leave this insidious place, Laura sticks around to discover what is truly going on.
The film slowly builds towards this big reveal, with ominous music and the drip-feeding of clues peppered throughout the script. But Matriarch never really feels like it’s moving towards anything of any substance. The first two-thirds are plagued with soap opera acting and bizarre, mechanical sections of dialogue. Laura seems to shift from pleasant to outrage in mere seconds, while dramatic twists are dropped into speech without any real build-up. This stilted approach spoils any clever nuances within the film and any genuine positives.
Matriarch has no memorable jump scares and lacks any sense of foreboding, but it has its moments of brutal gore. There’s gruesome body horror interwoven into this script and some decent special effects shots toward the end. While the over-the-top, sensationalized finale will appease horror fans who decide to stick with this movie to the bitter end, but it doesn’t save the movie overall. Steiner attempts to feed big ideas into a small project, which is valiant in itself, and we definitely need more low-budget British horror movies on the whole, but it can’t escape its flagrant weak points.
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