You Are Not My Mother
Halloween is just around the corner when Char’s depressive mother Angela disappears after labouredly taking the teenage girl to school. Out looking for her – because when it rains, it pours – Char runs right into the arms of the clique who bully her in class, and who promptly set fire to the family picture she has with her. That very night, after waking from a disturbing nightmare, Char finds the missing woman sitting indifferently at the kitchen table. But is the figure who came back really her mother?
Irish writer and director Kate Dolan’s first feature is a haunting and sorrowful study of mental illness and search for identity, wrapped up in an atmospheric merger of horror and coming-of-age. With its slow pace and organically building gloom, the fantastical elements lend themselves to an allegorical reading that induces more reverberating fear than any action-packed thriller could conjure. While Char is at the stage in her youth where one naturally seeks connections outside the family and starts to occasionally question parents and grandparents, the folklore at the heart of this story adds a vital urgency to her quest. The original Samhain traditions and local legends of changelings this Irish production features feel so culturally pertinent that one might argue the film is equally a champion of its mother country as it is the maternal protagonist.
Actress Carolyn Bracken expertly navigates the two poles of her character: struggling to get out of bed and staring into space catatonically, then dancing frenziedly to the point of breaking her foot. Her unpredictability makes her Angela perfectly creepy – and yet never to the point of total evil. The audience is shown a single happy memory Char has with her mother, but the emotions conveyed in this wistful flashback are enough.
Char is portrayed by 19-year-old Hazel Doupe, who, despite her young age, already has an impressive filmography to her name (Peter and Wendy, Float Like a Butterfly). Her performance is consistently strong, the subtle transformation of the silent, smart outsider to a young woman who begins to stand up for herself, convincing and relatable.
You Are Not My Mother premiered this past autumn at Toronto International Film Festival where audiences voted it runner up to Palme d’Or winner Titane for the Midnight Madness film award. Both films are perfect examples of the far-reaching socio-critical nuances found in current interpretations of genre, often labelled under the hotly debated term “elevated horror”.
While not reliant on any particular season for enjoyment, this feature is a perfect addition to any Halloween-themed watchlist.
You Are Not My Mother is released in select cinemas on 8th April 2022.
Watch the trailer for You Are Not My Mother here: