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Matriarch (2022) Movie Review – Disturbing British folk horror will make you squirm but not scream

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Disturbing British folk horror will make you squirm but not scream

You could be forgiven for not taking a holiday in the British countryside. It’s not that the scenery isn’t nice – it really is – but if you’re a moviegoer, you might be a little wary if you have seen such horror films as An American Werewolf in LondonThe Hallow, and The Wicker Man (the original, not the terrible remake).

Such movies are well worth a watch but if we are to believe them, the countryside is a menacing place and not a place for rest, relaxation, and scenic country walks! Blood cults, murderous locals, and dark supernatural forces are just a few of the things that won’t be advertised in tourist guides but over the years many filmmakers have warned us about such dangers within the movies they have given us. Matriarch is one such movie.

Directed by Ben Steiner, this latest entry in the folk horror genre, sees a young woman named Laura (Jemima Rooper) leave city life behind for a stay in the country with her estranged mother Celia (Kate Dickie). On arrival at her home village of Moorlinch Greinton, she soon regrets her decision to move back to the place of her childhood when her mother becomes increasingly deranged and the local villagers start to exhibit behaviours that are frighteningly abnormal.

So, what is going on? Well, I’m not going to divulge much of the plotline here for fear of giving away any major spoilers. However, I will tell you that Laura and her mom don’t have a very happy relationship. And I will also tell you that Laura’s dead father is largely to blame for the horrible events that take place in the village.

But beyond those surface-level plot details, I am reluctant to explain much more about the movie’s narrative to you, although I would like to give a shout-out to anybody with a phobia of worms or an aversion to body horror as this is a movie best avoided if I’m talking directly to you.

Unfortunately, this is also a movie best avoided if you’re looking for something scary to watch around Halloween (or at any other time of the year). While all the ingredients for a good horror movie are here – gruesome deaths, pagan cults that believe in sacrifice, strange things lurking at the bottom of a garden – there is very little tension, so while you might feel a little bit queasy when a worm slips out of someone’s nose, you won’t be biting your nails in terror!

Still, if you are looking for something that borders on the bizarre, you might appreciate this movie more than most. This village is full of strange happenings so you are guaranteed a few surprises if you have the patience to stick with it until the end. I don’t want to give too much away here but when I tell you that a scene involving a woman feeding a church congregation black goo from her breasts isn’t the most disturbing sight in the movie, you’ll know that this isn’t a movie that can ever be classified as ‘predictable.’

As such, this movie is quite memorable even though it’s far from being a classic of the genre. It’s creepily atmospheric in places and the imagery is suitably dark but not only does it fail to be scary, but it also fails to deliver a satisfying story. If you hate abstract endings, you will especially have a problem with Matriarch, as the story’s conclusion doesn’t make a lot of sense, despite the attempts that are made to explain the mysterious happenings within the village beforehand.

Another issue is the movie’s lack of backstory for the mother-daughter relationship at the core of the tale. We discover Laura’s childhood was traumatic and that her mother was largely responsible for this. But we don’t quite know what happened between them and why it was so bad that Laura decided to live away from her mom for so long. We know she suffered abuse that was verbal rather than physical but what did her mom say to her that was so hurtful? And why did Laura have to hide from her mom when she was younger?

Despite this frustration, the acting from both Rooper and Dickie is exemplary, so we can still buy into their troubled relationship, even though we aren’t told a great deal about either character. The acting appears to be less accomplished elsewhere although this may be a little harsh as some of the side characters are thinly written, with dialogue that is far less meaty than that given to the two leads. As the actors playing the villagers are also required to do little more than look odd and coldly distant, it’s hardly surprising that their acting might appear to be wooden, even though it perhaps isn’t.

Matriarch is currently streaming on Hulu in the US and Disney+ in the UK and is worth a watch if you’re looking for something that can be considered ‘weird.’ There are far better folk horrors out there, including Ben Wheatley’s excellent In the Earth, but this isn’t the worst the genre has to offer. It’s flat in places and the story sometimes drags but when you find out what sits at the bottom of Celia’s greenhouse, you may be glad that you decided to give this squirmy wormy horror tale a go!