‘Matriarch’ Review: Folk Horror Is Back in This Hulu Original

Folk horror is one of those sub-genres of horror that is often forgotten. There are hundreds of movies that fall under the label and yet it seems like it is very hard to find many on streaming services nowadays. The genre reached its peak in the 70s and then slowly faded away, but not completely. Now and then new movies in the genre appear, and they typically feel very much like standouts from among the rest of the movies being released. Hulu is here to bring us the latest in the genre. Let’s review it.

Hulu keeps on going even when the streaming services seem like a done deal, until very soon when some other company buys it and most of its content ends up being part of the Disney+ service overall. Their movie releases continue, though, slow but steady, and Matriarch really serves as this season’s family horror movie. However, the fact that it belongs to the folk horror genre might make it a bit hard to swallow for most audiences. The genre always finds itself being quite esoteric and confusing for general audiences.

The film is directed by Ben Steiner and stars Jemina Rooper and Kate Dickie. The film tells the story of Laura, a woman living in the city who is having some really rough times in life. After she survives an overdose, she decides to go back to her hometown and try to reconnect with her mother, whom she hasn’t seen for more than 20 years. However, when she comes back, she discovers her mother hasn’t changed a bit and that the town is way weirder than she remembered.

Matriarch pulls a lot from some recent “elevated horror” cinema, such as the works of Ari Aster, and The Witch by Robert Eggers. Because of it, the tone and the plot might look a bit familiar to the more knowledgeable eye, but for those who have never explored the realm of folk horror, the movie might actually be quite a unique experience. Like we said before, the genre is always trying to find new ways to be as esoteric as possible, and that means explanations and solutions don’t come as often as in the rest of the horror genre.

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The logic behind a story like Matriarch, and every folk horror story ever, has more in common with something like H.P. Lovecraft than with something like Friday the 13th. Folk horror mixes the old ways, the rituals of the Celts and the druids, with the Catholic tradition and then breaks it all down. There is a lot of blasphemy, but it makes sense because the genre is without a doubt a response to the colonization that the Catholic faith forced upon countless people over thousands of years.

Matriarch as a movie works very well within the folk horror genre, but it might be a bit too slow and weird for most people looking for something more conventional. Matriarch doesn’t have any jump scares, and for at least 60 minutes out of 90, the movie is just content with building up the characters and the relationship between mother and daughter. It is only after this that the horror bits start crashing against the plot in surprising ways. For many people, sitting down for the first two acts without any sign of horror might be too much.

For those with patience, the movie really ends up being something memorable. It isn’t perfect, of course. As we said, the pacing is terrible and the story itself is a bit too thin. This is one of those movies that would have been better in the shape of a short film instead of a feature. Alas, this is what we get, and the result is something that feels stretched out by quite a bit. It isn’t bad, but there is so little happening in the story that seeing this as a short film would have been amazing.

Jemina Rooper works well as a character that is clearly broken, and it has been for a long time. Every single of her attempt at being kind is met with the most awkward and even violent expressions. You can definitely feel that something is wrong with this woman even before the entire movie starts dropping clues about some truly disgusting and Lovecraftian stuff going on.

The star of the show is, of course, Kate Dickie, who kills in every role she decides to take. The actress is a force of nature, and here you can see how creepy she can be by just moving her eyes and her facial expressions. When combined with her movement and some very creepy stuff she starts doing soon after her character is introduced, well, you will definitely be on the lookout every time she moves.

In the end, Matriarch feels a bit like wasted potential. The ending is quite satisfying, and it ends in such a way that you feel like this is it and there is nothing after it. Which is a weird feeling nowadays when everything has to have a sequel. The two main performances are great! And the movie will definitely serve to keep folk horror alive, at least for a couple more years.

SCORE: 7/10

  • Nelson loves all things related to storytelling. He has spent most of his life studying narrative, applied across all mediums; film, TV, books, and video games. Mulholland Drive is his favorite film.