You Are Not My Mother, 2021.
Written and directed by Kate Dolan.
Starring Hazel Doupe, Paul Reid, Carolyn Bracken, and Ingrid Craige.
In a North Dublin housing estate, Char’s mother goes missing. When she returns, Char is determined to uncover the truth of her disappearance and unearth the dark secrets of her family.
Writer-director Kate Dolan announces herself as a sure talent to watch with this gamy slice of Irish folk horror, which with its unique placement as a distinctly Irish Halloween (or Samhain, as they would call it) movie seems primed to win itself a cult following.
In North Dublin, teenager Char (Hazel Doupe) lives with both her bedridden, mentally ill mother Angela (Carolyn Bracken) and her irritable grandmother Rita (Ingrid Craigie). One day, Angela disappears from the homestead only to return some time later, now smiling at her daughter and dancing gleefully around the kitchen, having undergone an unmistakable personality transplant.
It soon becomes clear that something is very, very wrong with Angela more so than usual, that something happened to her during her absence, and that it holds the key to the mysteries of Char’s own complicated family lineage.
“Family is the scariest fucking thing on the planet,” one of Char’s friends tells her early on, a statement backed up by the film’s very first scene, an enigmatic flashback in which grandma Rita places a baby on a pyre, seemingly leaving it to burn.
We don’t learn the true resonance of this opening scene for a long while, as Dolan threads a compelling tapestry of mysteries winding throughout her social realist drama with a folkloric fringe. Beyond that first scene, audiences will be left to consider the true nature of Char’s mentally fractured mother, a wholly complex family history, and how it all ties into local mythology.
Dolan plays her cards close to her chest until well into the film’s final stretch, but offers up an agreeably subdued, airy atmosphere from the jump. Beautifully shot courtesy of DP Narayan Van Maele, the stark naturalism of its moody, downcast Irish landscape helps ground the increasingly heightened genre elements later on. A discordant droning score from Die Hexen meanwhile seals the tonal deal.
The film’s major third act reveals largely require viewers to just roll with the slippery logistics, and the amusingly abrupt ending may not work for all, but Dolan’s earned enough goodwill by this point that most shouldn’t have too much trouble following the story to its barmy conclusion.
Beyond Dolan’s skilled work behind the camera, she’s equipped with a solid cast led by young Hazel Doupe as protagonist Char. Doupe convincingly portrays an embattled girl working through not only her mother’s bizarre behaviour but frequent hassle from kids at school who believe her entire family line is crazy.
But the easy MVP is Carolyn Bracken, who is quite remarkable as a distant mother struggling to sustain a sufficient bond with her child. Effectively playing two characters for all intents and purposes, Bracken has to vacillate between withered and euphoric, rising to the occasion to nail a demanding part. But that’s not to forget Ingrid Craigie, who in the smallest of the three central roles is good fun as the unsettlingly standoffish grandma to whom there’s far more than meets the eye.
Per its geographic and cultural specificity, You Are Not My Mother is a Halloween horror with a difference, but one that on pure filmmaking and acting merits alone indicates bright futures for those involved.
Kate Dolan makes an impressive, confident debut with a horror yarn that collides mental health concerns with Irish folklore in arresting fashion.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.