Director/Screenplay – Ben Steiner, Producers – Eoin O’Faolain & Ian Sharp, Photography – Alan McLaughlin, Music – Suvi-Eeva Aikas, Visual Effects/Special Effects – InCamera Studios, Visual Effects Supervisor – James Price, Special Effects Supervisor – Tommy Martin, Prosthetics & Creature Special Effects – Studio Sangeet, Prosthetics Designer – Sangeet Prabhaker, Production Design – Declan Price. Production Company – 20th Digital Studio/Sharp House.
Jemima Rooper (Laura), Kate Dickie (Celia), Sarah Paul (Abi), Keith David Bartlett (Ken), Franc Ashman (Maxine), Nick Haverson (Gerald), Simon Leacock (Leonard), Phillipa Peak (Mrs Dent)
Laura has a successful job in the city but not far beneath is falling apart and maintaining a cocaine habit. She is unexpectedly called by her mother Celia, whom she has not spoken to in twenty years. Laura abruptly quits her job and leaves the city and returns to the tiny rural village where she grew up. She cautiously moves back in with her mother and starts to deal with their past. At the same time, both Laura and her mother begin coughing up black ichor, while strange and sinister things are occurring around the town.
Matriarch was a directorial debut for Ben Steiner who had previously made several short films and one of the episodes of the anthology Monsterland 2 (2019).
The film opens on Jemima Rooper about her life in the unnamed city. I’d previously seen Rooper in light dramatic or romcom-type roles so it is somewhat of a shock seeing her here where the makeup and costuming people have given her an unflattering look and a severe black power dress that makes her resemble The Wicked Witch of the West (or else Fairuza Balk). Jemima goes through a series of scenes where she is falling apart (for reasons unspecified), turning up late to work and doing lots of cocaine even to the point her girlfriend walks out on her. Not to mention grotesque images where she starts producing black ichor from her mouth and in her panties, or collapses on the bathroom floor of her apartment and a pool of blood starts retreating back into her mouth.
Things become even stranger when Jemima returns back to the village where she grew up. We see cottages almost entirely overgrown with vines. Jemima encounters a woman (Phillipa Peak) who sells fudge from a table outside her home and their exchange seems to brood with past tensions between them. There are a couple that seem to be perpetually making out in a parked car. Over all of this, Kate Dickie gives an unnerving performance as Jemima’s mother, full of patently false cheer while sinisterly being seen crushing sleeping pills into Jemima’s tea and sneaking up behind her in the glasshouse to try and brain her with a pot.
You soon begin to get a strong Folk Horror vibe. The film starts heading in some quite outlandish directions with scenes where all of the locals start manifesting black goo and deliquescing, the appearance of a goddess in the glasshouse who proceeds to devour an entire body. The most bizarre of these sequences is where Jemima spies in on a church service where everybody strips nude and comes and suckles at Kate Dickie’s breasts as they ooze the black goo. I enjoyed this far more than Alex Garland’s Men (2022) from earlier in the year, which had a not dissimilar plot but wandered in confused directions.