DISCLAIMER: There are mild spoilers for Hulu’s Matriarch

It’s Spooky Season, and with it comes an onslaught of horror releases. Among those for this year is Matriarch, the latest to take Hulu by storm for its Huluween festivities. Written and directed by Ben SteinerMatriarch stars Jemima Rooper as Laura, a woman who becomes afflicted with a mysterious disease after an overdose. Laura ventures home to reconnect with her estranged mother, Celia (Kate Dickie), but instead of grappling with personal demons, she faces a tangible, life-altering threat.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this film. The body horror aspect is evident from the trailer, as is the mystical god element in Steiner’s work. While Matriarch owns the body horror and brings on the gore, don’t expect the standard jump scares you’d find in a typical horror feature. 

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Admittedly, Matriarch plays more like a thriller/family drama with horror elements than a full-fledged horror flick. The film’s crux is Laura and Celia’s toxic mother-daughter relationship, which Rooper and Dickie portray to perfection. It’s messy and nuanced.

Celia stands in the living room of her house while smiling eerily in Matriarch.

Matriarch — Celia (Kate Dickie), shown. (Courtesy of Hulu)

Neither character is particularly likable, but as someone with a poisonous, estranged mom, I empathized with Laura. Both actresses dole out visceral, unsettling performances. They peel back the layers of these flawed women while deftly filling in the blanks for the audience regarding the state of their relationship. Dickie, in particular, becomes utterly unnerving toward the end. She’s built for horror. 

Pacing-wise, Matriarch falters somewhat in finding its gait. While the writing allows us to get to know Laura, aptly developing her before the real action kicks into high gear, the narrative doesn’t take off until the final 30 minutes. But when it does, it barrels down the path toward its resolution at a breakneck pace. 

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One aspect I appreciate about Steiner’s storytelling is the lack of heavy exposition. The script relies on show over tell, allowing us viewers to piece together the mystery along the way. The film delves into themes such as the lengths we’ll go to achieve happiness, our collective obsession with societal beauty standards and how our personal demons will overtake us if we don’t endeavor to expel them. Mental health and addiction also rise to the fore, along with emotional abuse, a topic seldom explored in media. Matriarch tackles these subjects with aplomb. 

As for the effects and design, the film doesn’t shy away from gore and skin-crawling body horror. Expect a lot of black blood. The supernatural figure behind it all isn’t as terrifying as I’d hoped, but the real horror in this movie doesn’t derive from monsters or demons. It comes from Laura and Celia’s vitriolic, abusive bond. 

Celia stands behind a serious-looking Laura in Matriarch.

Matriarch — Celia (Kate Dickie) and Laura (Jemima Rooper), shown. (Courtesy of Hulu)

Meanwhile, the seamless camerawork plays with interesting angles, fluidly conveying the story onscreen. The lighting illustrates the seemingly perpetual dreariness in the UK, notably in the rural village where Laura returns to confront her mother. 

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Should You Watch It?

Yes. It’s an easy watch that clocks in at an hour and a half. It brims with piss-and-vinegar performances from Rooper and Dickie. If anything, watch it for their exemplary work and the delicacy with which they approach their characters’ complex relationship. Matriarch might not top your favorite horror films list, and its pacing may leave something to be desired, but it’s a solid story with some disturbingly haunting imagery. 

Matriarch will stream on Hulu on Friday, October 21, 2022.

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Melody McCune
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