Matriarch 2022 is an unsettling and unpredictable film that offers a fresh perspective on the horror genre, writes GEMMA JOHNSON
DIRECTOR: Ben Steiner
CAST: Jemima Rooper, Kate Dickie, Sarah Paul, Simon Meacock, Nick Haverson, Andrew Akins, Mandy Aldridge, Nini Anamah
Review of Matriarch 2022
We stumbled across this film quite accidentally one Sunday evening. The blurb mentioned an overdose, a mysterious illness, and a young woman returning to the comfort of her childhood home to support her recovery. It sounded quite biographical and easy viewing however, it turned out to be quite the opposite – uncomfortably strange. It offered a new perspective on the horror genre.
The film, directed by Ben Steiner, centres around the character of Laura, a tightly wound executive with perfectionist tendencies. To cope with the demands of life at the top, Laura turns to drugs and alcohol to cope with her daily existence. A heavy session leads to Laura collapsing on the glossy tiled floor of her luxury bathroom.
Unconscious and near death, we witness a nightmarish dream ending with a strange black gloop entering Laura’s mouth. Miraculously, Laura wakes up unaided; although very hungover, she has had a very narrow escape from death.
As Laura returns to the drudgery of her daily life, she notices that she is starting to have nosebleeds, but this is not claret; this is black gloop. Laura takes some time away from work and decides to go back to her home following an impeccably timed phone call from her estranged mother. If we were expecting a heartfelt family reunion and a courageous, life-affirming journey for Laura, we were very mistaken.
When we meet Laura’s Mum, Celia, it is clear that nothing is going to be what it seems. Celia is robotic, emotionless, and clinical. Although her words seem to be those of a comforting mother, her actions are far from it – drugging her daughter’s drink with sleeping pills being an example of this. Why would a mother drug her daughter, let alone a daughter who is battling an addiction?
Celia has mysterious work to do, mysterious work that involves the whole of the village. It is convenient for Laura to be out of action so that there is no interference.
Laura’s relationship with her mother is awkward to watch. On several occasions, Laura tries to leave to return to her own home, but she is blocked by her former best friend Abi. We all enjoy reminiscing and looking back at our experiences through rose-tinted glasses, and that is what Abi uses to keep a hold over Laura.
The whole of the village has an odd atmosphere to it – think Royston Vasey but worse, much, much worse. All the villagers seemingly have the same black gloop running from their noses and the same mechanical, slightly manic, manner that Celia has. You can’t quite make sense of it, but it makes you incredibly uneasy watching it.
We then uncover the horrific details, and there are scenes here that I can never unsee, so I will spare you by avoiding going into too much detail. The village and Celia are fixed on needing to be at church for service. Celia’s drugging of Laura fails one night, and curiosity takes the better of Laura – which to be honest, I really wish it hadn’t, but it is a key part of the plot, so brace yourself. Laura follows Celia to church and manages to peer in from a window. We find out a very disturbing secret.
Celia is standing at the front of the church at the altar; she is topless. Each one of the villagers is completely naked and takes it in turns to receive a form of communion from Celia; this is not your typical mass. They each drink gloop from Celia much in the way that a new-born baby may be fed by their mother – get the picture? Good, because I can’t unsee it.
But it doesn’t end there, much to my discomfort. Following the receiving of the ‘milk’ the villagers pair up with one another for rather graphic adult ‘moments’. Celia is some form of life giver and has seemingly been preserving the lives of the villagers for some time. The black gloop is a powerful life source.
But where and why? Well, where would anyone hide a secret of such powerful magnitude? In the back of the greenhouse, of course. The greenhouse houses a goddess creature floating above an abyss of black water. What?? Huh?? Yep, that’s right. I said this was a strange film.
Mother and daughter enter into an argument. Laura is very confused by all that she has seen – I was equally confused watching it – but then it all makes sense. Laura’s mother and father were desperate for a child, yet Celia had difficulties conceiving and carrying a baby. Seeing the distress in his wife, Laura’s father sacrificed his own life in a pond so that Celia could be a mother.
Laura had been led to believe that he had died by suicide, but he hadn’t. Because of his sacrifice, a matriarch goddess had been created, and she birthed Laura through the use of Celia’s body. Celia is not actually Laura’s mum, the matriarch goddess is. The goddess to whom Celia was planning to sacrifice Laura to.
Penny now firmly dropped, Laura’s loyalty to her true mother is confirmed – she stops the black water supply, and her matriarch goddess mother is freed. But the same cannot be said for Celia, who is killed with the blunt end of a gun by Laura. Laura, then wondering what on earth has just happened, goes back to the same pond where her father had sacrificed himself; we see her entering the water before the film credits then start to roll.
Although this film was at times deeply uncomfortable and disturbing to watch, it made a refreshing change from the usual jump scare, slasher films. It was a slow burner, but once the plot got going, it genuinely kept you on your toes because it was so unpredictable.
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