YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER ****
Directed by Kate Dolan.
Starring Hazel Doupe, Carolyn Bracken, Ingrid Craigie.
Horror, Ireland, 93 minutes, certificate 15.
Reviewed as part of FrightFest Glasgow ‘22
There was a strong Irish presence at FrightFest Glasgow this year as four features from the country screened over the weekend. Perhaps the strongest of these was Kate Dolan’s feature debut that mixes Irish folk horror and social drama to good effect. Dealing with teenager Char, a lonely girl frequently bullied at school and coping with a distant mother at home, her problems only increase when her possibly depressed mother Angela goes missing. After a search fails to reveal her whereabouts Angela suddenly reappears with a much sunnier disposition than before. Char’s suspicions that something more than a change in attitude is at play here only deepen and when she goes in search of the truth, she realises that certain myths around the area and her own family may prove disturbingly true.
The Irish spin on the doppelganger has been explored onscreen recently before, but from the opposite angle of parent suspecting her own child, in 2019’s THE HOLE IN THE GROUND. This more than manages to stand on its own two distinctive feet with ease. By taking a grounded approach to its characters and the recognisable living situation they find themselves in combined with the thrillingly dark exploration of the nation’s folklore that has sneaked into Char’s home it very much proves itself as its own distinctive beast. Where HOLE IN THE GROUND was a very effective two hander focused on its own double act, YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER is just as effective with its larger cast of characters who are all finely written and portrayed onscreen.
Hazel Doupe gives a quiet, compelling performance as Char while Carolyn Bracken keeps the audience guessing with her portrayal as Char’s mother. Dolan manages to keep the audience guessing as to the true cause of Angela’s personality change. Is it a further symptom of her mental health or is it down to something more sinister in the woods that her own mother wards off with several home-made charms? The balancing act of superstition and psychological heath is nicely written and directed by Dolan and makes every minute of its brief ninety-minute running time count, the tension increasing more and more as it gets to the end.
The pacing is measured, taking its time. A chilly wintry atmosphere permeates every frame as Char deals with problems at home and school, thanks in no small part to school bully Kelly, a truly hateful character portrayed by Katie White. The bullying measures up to the malevolent presence at home, resulting in a nicely timed and expertly executed scare those further measures Dolan’s talents and displays a love for the genre which she made apparent at the films Q&A afterwards at the Glasgow FrightFest screening.
An exciting debut for its writer/director it is also a very encouraging sign that Irish horror, particularly of the folk horror variety, is making a distinctive mark on the genre with more to come. YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER was a highlight of this year’s Scottish festival and will linger in the memory of anyone else who will catch it before Dolan’s very promising follow up on which she shared tantalising info with the appreciative FrightFest audience.