Hulu’s new horror film, “Matriarch,” is definitely not for everyone, and perhaps not for most. Following the events in the life of Laura, as she decides to visit her childhood house and mother after twenty years, the film tries to use gore and supernatural horror to equal ends but fails miserably on all sides. “Matriarch” might be just fine if you are looking for over-the-top demonic entertainment, but it is simply nonsensical and easy to avoid if one intends to find anything beyond superficial theatrics.
Laura is a hardworking middle-aged woman living a lonely life in a busy metropolis. Both her demanding job in an advertising agency and her own stringent opinions about going out with people have left her with very few friends. She has a friendly relationship with her boss, Maxine, but this relationship, too, seems to be more from the boss’s side than Laura’s. Instead of going out for drinks or social interactions, the protagonist prefers spending time by herself in her apartment, accompanied by only extensive amounts of alcohol and cocaine. Laura has also seemingly tried her luck with romance, but it is her lifestyle that gets in the way of that too. One night, she spends time with an ex-lover, and when she asks the woman to move in with her, the latter makes it clear that she cannot keep up with Laura’s dependence on drugs all the time. After the woman leaves, Laura spirals some more and ends up drinking and snorting cocaine the whole night. The next morning, she faces the terrible consequence of the night—her body gives up due to the overdose, and Laura faints and falls to the ground. In what seems to be hallucinatory visions, she sees a black liquid flowing towards her and into her mouth, and then two hands come out of the darkness and reach out to her.
Although the overdose was bad enough to kill her, Laura survives the ordeal and returns to work the next day. Maxine, who had known about her colleague’s cocaine addiction, now intervenes to help her, but Laura gets fired up and quits the job and also rejects Maxine’s help. This action was not just out of her drug addiction, though, for only some minutes earlier, Laura had received a phone call from her estranged mother. This contact from the mother, for the first time in twenty years, and her own difficult situation in life make Laura decide to visit her mother and her hometown after these long twenty years.
Laura returns to the quaint little place that is her hometown, a secluded English village by the name of Moorlinch Greinton. Visiting her old house, she realizes that the place has changed quite a bit but is startled to see that her mother, Celia, does not look as old as she should. Laura chooses to believe that her mother must have gone through numerous surgeries to maintain her youthfulness, and she is rather judgmental about it at first. The relationship between this mother and daughter is not like the usual one, and it is quickly made clear that Laura’s decision to keep no contact with her home for twenty years was due to Celia. Although what happened is never really directly shown, Celia was basically a mother who mistreated Laura and would shout at her every chance she got. At present, Celia says that she had never physically hurt her child and used to only hurl verbal harshness at her, and Laura is livid at her mother’s attempt to make her actions seem less cruel. The other residents of the village are also not very welcoming of Laura, and again, while nothing is directly mentioned, it seems that the reason many conservative-minded villagers dislike Laura is because of the romantic relationship she had with another girl of her age, Abi. At present, Laura meets Abi as well, who is still very disappointed and hurt over the fact that Laura had just disappeared and left for the city twenty years ago and had not told Abi anything before leaving.
Soon, the strangeness of the village and the few characters that are seen start to crop up as “Matriarch” rolls into its more absurd parts. An old couple makes incessant love to each other cramped up inside a car, and they cannot seem to stop even though they want to. Abi seems to be following Laura around and reporting to someone her movements over her phone. But the strangest things happen inside Laura’s house, as Celia regularly mixes some sedatives in the water or jam that she gives to Laura. On the very first night, as Laura is in a deep slumber induced by the sedative, her mother drags her out of her room and the house and pulls her towards the garden, but Laura wakes up before Celia can take her there, and she manages to flee the scene. By the time Laura is completely awake, she finds herself alone on their lawn and thinks that she might have sleepwalked. Laura also finds her mother’s personal diary while going through her things, and from it, she discovers that her mother has a very colorful life of getting intimate with all the men in the village and even rates her experiences with them. While the daughter initially keeps this to herself, making a cheeky assumption about her mother’s sexuality, she does use this to try and create a moral high ground against Celia when the two have an argument over something. Celia does not take this well, and she orders Laura to get out of the house, but actually, she uses this as a ruse to hide something physical happening to her. Ever since her drug overdose-induced blackout, Laura had noticed a black fluid coming out of her nose and ear in place of blood, and she noticed this very same black ink-like liquid when she menstruated as well. As it turns out, Celia has also been getting this same black liquid replacing all her blood and bodily fluids, and when she seems to create a ruckus over Laura going through her personal diary, Celia also has this liquid coming out of her nose, and she essentially tries to hide it from her daughter. Some of the villagers are also shown to secrete a similar black liquid, and it becomes clear that the very first time Laura saw the liquid during her overdose was not a hallucination but a real occurrence.
Gradually, as the film pushes itself toward the climax, things are revealed, and the entire story becomes clear. Laura believed that her father had committed suicide before her birth by drowning himself in a swampy lake behind their house. But in reality, the man used to be a practitioner of black magic and some similar secretive arts (the film does not name what the father used to practice and just says that the man had some other-worldly knowledge). After his marriage with Celia, the wife wanted a child of their own, but the couple was not able to conceive, and so, after years of trying, the father decided to sacrifice himself in order to get a child. Using all his black magic knowledge and skills, he walked into the swampy pond (this is actually the scene that “Matriarch” begins with) and gets a demonic figure of a six-breasted matriarch to come down and live in the village. This demon had then given birth to Laura through Celia, for the latter to rear as her own. But Celia did not enjoy this shared motherhood, and it seems that she was harsh on her child because of this. As Celia was the mother to her child, the demonic matriarch gave the woman certain powers, one of which was that black liquid that she secreted from her body, and this liquid was a rich source of virility and youth. After Laura had left the village, Celia started to make use of this liquid that would come to her (most possibly once every month, like a menstrual cycle) by selling it to the villagers in exchange for money and influence. By now, twenty years later, all the villagers were tremendously dependent on Celia to share her power with them, and without this liquid, they were actually very old people who would have died otherwise. Laura witnesses all this when she goes to the local church and sees her mother stand on the pedestal, and all the villagers feed on the black liquid from her breasts, after which the villagers immediately indulge in an orgy. The only people who had refused to sell their souls to this dark magic were the village priest, Ken, his wife, and his daughter, who happened to be Laura’s lover, Abi.
Being the daughter of an other-worldly demon or God (you are free to choose), Laura was expected to possibly carry on this lineage of dark powers and payback for getting her life. But instead, she had created a lifestyle of addiction that had resulted in an overdose. It is now revealed that Laura had actually died during her overdose, but the matriarch had used her powers to revive her to life because Laura had not yet achieved all the greatness she was supposed to achieve. The matriarch now wanted her daughter to return to her, and she made it felt on all ends. While this wish was relayed to Celia by her usual black magic-oriented communication method, and Celia, therefore, contacted her daughter after twenty long years, Laura herself saw the vision of the two hands calling out to her, which was basically the matriarch calling out to her. Now that Laura knows all this, Celia convinces her to step into the darkness at the back of their garden, where the beastly matriarch lives so that she keeps the supply of black liquid power intact, and the village (and Celia herself) survives. Abi also helps Celia in her efforts, as the woman convinces Laura to do the same, but things come to a brief halt when the old priest, Ken, tries to stop this sacrifice. He walks into the garden and confronts Celia with a firm belief that she and her husband had only brought dangerous greed amongst the villagers, but he, too, learns of a revelation that shakes him.
Ken used to believe that his wife and daughter were staunchly against the acts of Celia and the villagers, as these actions went against the teachings of God and Christianity, but Abi had actually switched sides a few years earlier. As it turned out, Abi got cancer, much like her mother, but while her mother died, Abi wanted to live and sought help from Celia, who cured her with the dark powers of the matriarch. However, now when the matriarch’s powers were fading because Laura had not yet been handed over to her, Abi’s cancer was returning as well, and she was now helping Celia only to ensure her own recovery. It was to Celia that Abi was earlier reporting the whereabouts of Laura, making sure that she did not suddenly leave the village. Ken cannot digest all of this, especially when Abi points out to him that these dark powers gave her instant results while his religion and God could not, and the man stabs himself to death. Laura is now left to only the whims of her mother, both her acting mother and the real one, and she is given over to the matriarch, who cradles the woman on her lap.
But unlike what was expected, the matriarch lets Laura go, and the woman now quickly turns vengeful against Celia. Despite the latter begging her not to, Laura frees the beastly matriarch and relieves her from the duty of providing for the whole village every month. Now the two women return to the church, where the villagers, who have turned all old and shriveled, beg for the black liquid that would give them youth and keep them alive. However, that well has dried up, and when Celia tries to show her power over the villagers, Laura hits her mother with a shotgun and smashes her skull in, bringing an end to the frenzy of the evil woman. Laura now returns to her house, where she gets rid of her clothes and urinates on the grand piano that her mother used to force her to play when she was a child. While no explanation for this bizarre act and scene is provided, it is probably a sign of ultimate defiance against the mother. Laura then walks into the same swampy pond behind their house and drowns herself. Whether she, too, would turn into a beastly matriarch and provide for an entire village is not something that the film delves into, and it is best kept that way.
“Matriarch” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by Ben Steiner.
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