April 4, 2019 Matriarch (Movie Review)
Which mother knows best? In the Scottish Horror-Thriller offering Matriarch, two fierce moms square off in a battle for supremacy and survival. Lionsgate delivers the action to DVD, Digital, and On Demand as of Tuesday, April 9, 2019.
Expectant parents Rachel (Charlie Blackwood: Great Expectations mini-series, Story of Frank short 2017) and Matt (Scott Vickers: Advance to Contact short 2013, River City series) Hopkins are out for a drive in the Scottish countryside when their car accidentally careens into a downed tree. With no cell signal available and only one house in sight, the pair pray for the best when they find themselves at the doorstep of Fairbairn Farm.
Here they are greeted by the jovial, white-haired Agnes (Julie Hannan: The Passing of Mother Prudence short 2012, Coronation Street series), who welcomes them with open arms. She introduces the couple to her husband, Bob (Alan Cuthbert: FLUX short 2015, The Gaelic King 2017), and sons David (Thoren Ferguson: Armchair Detectives series, Clique series) and Luke (Martin Murphy in his acting debut). There is also a teenage daughter, Faith (Briony Monroe: Eggshells short 2016, Sheltered short 2018), who seems to come and go with the wind.
Rachel is immediately ruffled by Agnes’ awkward social graces and flashy religiosity, and she describes the family as both creepy and sinister. However, for the sake of her unborn child, she agrees to spend the night at the lovely country house. Though after an entirely awkward family dinner and one all-too-realistic nightmare that awakens her in the wee hours of the morning, the couple opt for a change of plans. That is when all hell breaks loose!
Clocking in at 92 minutes, Matriarch was written and directed by Scott Vickers (Madchen Kill short 2011, Death Wish short 2015), and the film is a feature-length debut for the director who also stars as Matt Hopkins. It also features the acting talents of Kris McDowall (Passing Place short 2014) and Cameron Fulton (Neds 2010, Connect 2019).
Another entry into the sub-genre of what we will loosely term ‘Pregnancy Horror,’ Matriarch pits mom against mom in a battle for ultimate survival. Billed as a Horror-Thriller, the film leans more towards a Thriller with some Horror elements, meaning that there’s nothing truly horrifying within. That is unless you’re afraid of apron-clad little old ladies!
It would be very hard to ignore the fact that Vickers directs, writes, and stars in the film, making it a labor of great love. While his screenplay is a bit weak (we’ll get to that), his directing and acting are both solid and, overall, he does himself proud in his varying roles behind as well as in front of the screen. As Matt, Vickers displays a knack for dramatic skills, as he effectively communicates the immediacy and trauma of his suffering at the hands of the Fairbairn family. When he pleads with two stoners, we are entirely convinced. Not to mention, his chemistry with Blackwood makes them believable as a couple expecting their first child. In short, he has done his film justice by casting himself in a leading role.
Cuthbert (Bob), Ferguson (David), and Murphy (Luke) all give solid performances in their roles. Ferguson and Murphy are given little to work with — aside from being entirely socially awkward — while Cuthbert hovers somewhere between a submissive husband and threatening presence. Though she speaks very few words, Monroe delivers an impressive performance in the role of Faith. As little more than a haunting yet helpful presence throughout, she uses her body language and facial expressions to deliver what she cannot in spoken words.
Truthfully, the film often comes down to the acting skills of its leading ladies: Blackwood and Hannan. Blackwood brings passion to her role of Rachel, as she fights for the life of her child. None of the on-screen action is particularly thrilling, but Blackwood goes into each scene with a ferocity that clearly displays her character’s will to live. Her ability to plead and to continually struggle for her cause lend an emotionality to the film, one that would be decidedly lacking without her excellent acting chops.
As her archnemesis, Hannan gives a suitably disturbing performance as the bizarre Agnes. Always smiling, a seemingly doting housewife who loves her brood (perhaps a bit too much), but yet also part freakish cult leader, Hannan brings her unsettling character to life. As with many characters in Horror, Agnes is overly, uncomfortably religious, quoting scripture and condemning others while she ironically (and quite disturbingly) kisses her sons on the lips. She’s a bit young for the standard ‘matriarch from hell,’ but Hannan delivers despite the role feeling, like much of the script, derivative.
Which is the problem with Matriarch: while the film looks great — thanks to the lovely yet moody cinematography of Paul Riley (Earth Story TV series documentary 1998, Coast TV series documentary 2012) — and contains good acting, it’s also entirely predictable. From the very moment that Rachel and Matt encounter a road closure, every single occurrence feels borrowed and uninventive — from the house in the country as a stand in for the cabin in the woods, to the awkward religious family, to the idea of a pregnant woman under duress. These are tropes that have been done ad nauseum, and while they don’t entirely destroy the film or make it unwatchable, it’s certainly not groundbreaking cinema.
This too is not helped by the banal story’s pacing, which seems to travel at light-speed for the first half of the film before suddenly moving to a slow grind for the second half. While most Horror-Thrillers do the opposite, and respect is due to Matriarch for trying something different, it does not work here at all. The result is a predictable film that comes out of the gates fairly strong and then seemingly flounders, leaving viewers to pick apart its flaws rather than continue to be swept along for the speedy ride.
Let’s face it: religion and pregnancy are always going to make certain people uncomfortable. Toss in some social awkwardness and one disturbing white-haired woman and you have Matriarch. A strange instance of a film that looks phenomenal and has a talented cast behind it, yet due to the banality of its script and pacing issues it’s not the best Horror-Thriller offering one will encounter this year. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give Matriarch 3.5 of 5 stars.