Synopsis: Char’s mother goes missing in a North Dublin housing estate. When she returns, Char is determined to uncover the truth of her disappearance and unearth her family’s dark secrets.
Stars: Hazel Doupe, Paul Reid, Carolyn Bracken, Ingrid Craigie, Jade Jordan, Jordanne Jones, Katie White, Aoife Spratt
Director: Kate Dolan
Running Length: 93 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: If you’re a fan of horror like me and struggle to find something new to view, you’ve probably done something like what I try now and then. You’ll search “Best Horror films on <insert streaming service> right now” and see what luck you have. Between some obvious choices of mainstream fare making their debut on your service of choice, there’s always an unknown title that turns out to be a hidden gem. The internet may be a cesspool at times, but this is a case when it is good for something.
This new Irish horror film from director Kate Dolan is one that I’m pretty sure will become part of this list once enough people get a chance to see it. The title alone, You Are Not My Mother, has a lot of eye-catching heft to it, and, as it turns out, so does Dolan’s effective screenplay and creepy production. Dolan gives her audience a nimble and rewarding ride by bringing you in with what you think are tropes associated with the straightforward family dynamic drama and then changing sharply into the richly detailed mythology of folk horror. Local flavor in the performances elevates the picture further, making it an authentically felt experience.
Teenager Char (Hazel Doupe, The Shadow of Violence) is used the stares from the townspeople in her small Irish village. After all, she’s the child of Angela (Carolyn Bracken), who is known for her mental health struggles over the years. Bearing a visible scar on her face from one of her mother’s episodes, Char is mainly friendless and tries to make it through the day without attracting the attention of neighborhood bullies Suzanne (Jordanne Jones) and Kelly (Katie White). Living with her grandmother Rita (Ingrid Craigie) eases some of the tension because she’s experienced with keeping an eye on Angela. Still, even Rita can’t explain where Angela has disappeared to now. Unable to find her mother for days, there’s little anyone in the town can (or wants) to do to find her.
When Angela does return, something is different, and Char sees it right away. The darkness that plagued her has lightened, the willingness to be involved is finally there, and the mother she wanted has returned. Yet, this strange about-face doesn’t seem entirely correct, and a late-night peek between a door jam reveals to Char why she should be afraid of Angela…and what evil she has brought back with her. As her mother tries to draw her nearer and bullies circle her like vultures, Char needs to rely on inner strength to battle her growing demons.
Dolan directs her first feature after spearheading several shorts over time. The result is a confident debut that draws out uniformly good performances, especially from Doupe and Jones as Char’s nemesis that, like all bullies, has more to her than meets the eye. Giving these characters more personality and depth than usual helps create a real-world space for this horror to invade and more reason for audiences to invest time in wanting them to survive. Despite some iffy special effects near the end, all of the playing field Dolan is working with in You Are Not My Mother has a ring of truth to it, so you can feel that chill up your spine just as much as the characters do. This solid effort is one to watch for and not scroll by so easily.