Film - You Are Not My Mother

On recently at FrightFest Glasgow, thanks to Signature Entertainment, Ren Zelen watched You Are Not My Mother...

Writer/Director: Kate Dolan
Starring: Hazel Doupe, Carolyn Bracken, Ingrid Craigie, Paul Reid, Jordanne Jones

With the decline of the influence of the Catholic Church, Irish film has turned from the horrors of religious strife, abuse or demonic possession and now appears to be successfully mining a new vein of terror to be found in Irish folklore and mythology.

Following on from excellent Irish offerings such as such as The Hallow, Wake Wood, The Hole in the Ground and From the Dark we have Kate Dolan’s confident debut feature You Are Not My Mother.

Here, the Irish writer/director skilfully weaves together a tale involving teen bullying, mental illness and inter-generational family disfunction, with folklore concerning changelings and shapeshifters.

Hazel Doupe (Float like a Butterfly, 2018) stars as an academically achieving but bullied teenager named Char, who lives with mum Angela (Carolyn Bracken) who is stricken with severe depression, and an infirm, benevolent, but oddly secretive grandmother, Rita (Ingrid Craigie) in a drab North Dublin estate.

As the film opens, mother Angela is so debilitated by her depression that it is an effort to even get out of bed. Ordinary household tasks such as grocery shopping or driving her daughter to school seem crushingly demanding.

Coming home from school one day Char finds mother Angela’s car abandoned on the green, with the doors flung wide open and a bag of groceries left on the front seat.

Char’s Uncle Aaron (Paul Reid) contacts the police and insists on a search for his sister, though few facts are available. Meanwhile, grandmother Rita seems strangely stoic and assured that Angela will find her way back home.

The week before Halloween Angela returns without explanation. She looks and sounds the same, but it soon becomes clear to Char and grandmother Rita that something is very wrong.

At a dinner when the family is reunited, all seem uncomfortable and even uncle Aaron becomes strangely antagonistic to Angela’s advances to her daughter Char. As Angela’s behaviour becomes more unhinged and frightening, grandma Rita starts muttering incantations and fashioning strange amulets.

As if Char doesn’t have enough to contend with at home, a gang of malevolent teens await to torment her during school hours.

As Halloween approaches, Dolan deftly escalates her heroine’s predicament as Char’s mother becomes weirder and more unrecognizable, and her teen tormentors’ tricks and harassments become more threatening.

Matters come to a head on Halloween night, a time steeped in ancient myth and legend, and Char must finally face the uncanny secrets of her family and uncover the truth behind her mother's disappearance in order to save her or lose her forever.

You Are Not My Mother engages with a number of thought-provoking themes – bullying, family frictions, secrets, mental illness, and melds them with supernatural threat. The tension is helped immeasurably by committed performances, particularly from Hazel Doupe as the long-suffering Char, a teenage girl dealing with the awfulness of bullying and strife at home, unable to rely on help from the adults around her and whose predicament intensifies into something altogether more sinister and unnatural.

Carolyn Bracken as her mother Angela also creates a character that is pitiable, but convincingly becomes a source of alarm and dread. Die Hexen’s unsettling score adds to the sense of menace, as does Narayan Van Maele’s prowling camerawork and dingy colour palette.

You Are Not My Mother proves to be an assured debut and a successful example of low-budget folk-horror. Even if you’re not entirely convinced by the folklore premise, there is enough in the film to indicate that Kate Dolan is a filmmaker to watch.

Review Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2022 All rights reserved.

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