Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Matriarch, on Hulu

So much for all that bogus double-talk about the “patriarchy.” Of course, it never had any place in folk horror. All those weirdo villagers who secretly held to “the old ways” were often enthralled to some sort of a pagan earth goddess. It turns out Laura Birch was not wrong to stay so-long estranged from her mother Celia, because the older woman made a Faustian bargain with the evil power controlling her village in Ben Steiner’s Matriarch, which premieres Friday on Hulu.

Birch was going through a rough patch in London that culminated in a coke overdose. She probably should have died, but he felt like something pulled her back. She also feels compelled to finally visit her old mother, who strangely looks like she has not aged a day since they last met. Birch hardly gets much of a welcome from the tight little village, but folk horror fans know they never take kindly to outsiders. Only Birch’s old friend Abi still greats her warmly. However, Birch is a little put off by the way Abi’s father, the village Pastor, condemns the town for turning its back on Christianity and everything else decent.

takes a little time to get going, but once Steiner gets into the folk horror, the film gets seriously sinister. There is a palpable atmosphere of Pagan-wrongness to the village. Kate Dickie (who is becoming an established horror star, thanks to Raven’s Hollow, Shepherd, and The Green Knight) is satisfyingly creepy as Mother Birch. Jemima Rooper (who was also weirdly compelling in Flowers in the Attic: The Origin) effectively portrays Birch’s cynical urban materialist skepticism as it slowly gives way to the shock and horror of her Pagan legacy.

This is a heck of a
Mommie Dearest story. There are several betrayals in Matriarch and they all cut deep to the bone. There is evil in this village, but nobody can blame it on “the Patriarchy.” It is those folky old ways, which will really get under viewers’ skin.

There are some early pacing issues, but Steiner takes the film to a very unsettling place. If you enjoy the charms of rural village life depicted in
All Creatures Great and Small, this will not be your cup of tea. However, if you enjoy outsiders stumbling into nefarious ancient secrets and rituals, Matriarch will scratch your itch. Recommended for folk horror fans, Matriarch starts streaming Friday (10/21) on Hulu.