I don’t know which movie is worse between Grimcutty and Matriarch, but let me tell you one thing: Disney needs to kill 20th Digital Studio. There hasn’t been an excellent title to come out of that division of FOX, and its latest product, Matriarch, is an absolute embarrassment for everyone involved.
However, it does start out semi-promising. After surviving a cocaine overdose, Laura (Jemima Rooper) returns to her childhood village to see her mother (Kate Dickie), who is allegedly dying. Allegedly, because she has been emotionally manipulating Laura since she was a child, with the protagonist blaming her for her current troubles with drug and alcohol addiction. This sounds like a great basis for a film exploring the theme of familial trauma, with the mother not being what she seems and the movie slowly pulling back the curtain on who (or what?) is controlling the village.
But once it gets to *that* reveal, oh boy. It goes from semi-serious to amazingly silly and never once recovers. I won’t dare spoil it (why would I ruin the fun of this unintentionally hilarious movie that must be viewed while high?), but let’s just say that it feels plucked straight out of a Neil Breen movie, with no cohesion from what was initially set up before. It’s hilarious to think that audiences will care more about what’s going on when all is revealed, because it may very well end up being the most baffling plot twist of the year. And no coherent explanation will ever justify how nonsensical it is. Director Ben Steiner is doing something allegorical with his reveal, and one I would like to tackle in this review, but it’s funnier if you let yourself go and get legitimately shocked, and not in a good way, by what Matriarch reveals in its final fifteen minutes.
There’s also the problem of the townspeople starting to decompose as they exhume a sort of motor oil-like blood (direct plagiarism from Julia Ducournau’s Titane?). To regain their youth, they have to drink poisoned milk (?) in some ritual where they drink the concoction before performing an orgy. What does this have to do with the main plot? I don’t know, but since none of the concepts from Steiner’s script are explained, all we’re left to do is to go “what?!?” “how?!?” “What is it talking about?” Does it want to talk about Laura’s relationship with her mom? Or the town’s effects as they’re poisoned by motor oil milk? What is actually going on? Pretty quickly, you’ll likely go “who knows and who cares,” especially during its ridiculous ending.
It doesn’t help that none of the performances are particularly memorable, but no one can blame the actors. The script is filled with clichéd arcs, from the protagonist who abuses drugs who can’t discern reality and fiction as she is emotionally and physically abused by her mother with an obvious hidden agenda that gets revealed within its final minutes, all of the territory treaded in Matriarch has been done eons of times in far better movies with a point. Because Matriarch doesn’t have a point. As I said, it starts out interesting. Any movie with a self-destructive protagonist is enticing enough, but it literally and figuratively jumps the shark as soon as she rekindles with her mother.
It may be a strong opinion that Disney would halt any productions from 20th Digital Studio, especially at how it uplifts independent filmmakers to the mainstream, but they haven’t released anything compelling in its fourteen years of existence. Disney shouldn’t have shut down Blue Sky, but a studio that is quite literally the nadir of 20th Century Fox, one that brings little to no value or artistic quality to its productions. And should their next movies be in the same ilk as Grimcutty and Matriarch, I don’t want to see them.
Matriarch is now available to stream on Hulu in the United States and on Disney+ internationally.