By Josh Taylor
Matriarch, a new Hulu original movie, is the story of a woman who’s looking to leave the pressure of her advertising job behind and accepts an invite to return home to her estranged mother only to find that there are dark secrets coming to light. In recent years, horror has shifted from stories about ghouls and monsters to looking more at the problems with ourselves as humans. Creepy Kingdom was able to sit down with director/writer Ben Steiner, and the stars of the film, Jemima Rooper and Kate Dickie to discuss how this new horror film based on family connections and humanity came to life. Steiner believes that “ Horror has been, for the last few years, in a weird and interesting place. Things that used to be the subtext are now in the foreground. A film like Hereditary, for example, is explicitly about familial trauma and how it is passed down through generations. Where we are at, in this moment, is exploring those ideas culturally.”
Dickie, who plays the titular matriarch chimed in on the topic, “We've got a real curiosity about humanity, about human nature, about real drama that happens. It is really interesting for me, as an actor, because Matriarch is a dark drama with very wild aspects, but at the center of all of the wildness is this really sad story about the disconnection between a mother and daughter. I just think as humans we're so fascinated with humanity and human behavior. I get to act that out.” Horror fans may recognize Dickie from The Witch where she also played a mother, but chances for female actors to sink their teeth into new and interesting roles is a recent occurrence. Thanks to pushes within the entertainment industry, women aren’t just being cast in supporting roles and female stories have become more complex. More films are beginning to pass the Bechdel test, a set of criteria that sees more than one woman featured in a film, women talking to each other, and having conversations that aren’t just about men. Actress Jemima Rooper shared her frustration with certain films and scripts saying, “ I'm one of those people that if I read a script or see something on the TV and it just a load of blokes, I'm wondering why they aren’t making those characters women. We can say those things. We can do those things.” For Rooper, Steiner’s script was a chance to jump into something that she felt could have been written for men, but Steiner chose to make it a story about a mother and daughter relationship. “, To get a script with such great female characters and of the particular ages that our characters are, that doesn't happen very often. Immediately I was really into it before I'd even read much of the story. Maybe because Ben is a man and he's written it, maybe he pushed things further than a female writer would who was writing these characters. I don't know. But it never bothered me that it was a man writing women. It never even actually occurred to me when I was reading it and it has in the past. I got the character. I loved the character. It was meaty and interesting.”
Both actresses praised Steiner on his ability to create characters that weren’t the a-typical female roles, while Steiner admitted that he very well could have just made the story about, as Rooper said, ”a load of blokes” he was interested in the mother-daughter dynamic. Dickie appreciated that roles like these were coming out of writers and directors like Steiner. She said, “I think the world's finally ready to be more interested in women's stories. As Jemima said, we're both not 20 years old. It’s really exciting not to be on screen just to prop up a male story, but to focus on a female story.”
Matriarch begins streaming exclusively on Hulu on October 21st.