Movie Review ~ You Are Not My Mother

The Facts:

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
Rated: NR
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.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Ritual

The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of university friends trekking through the forests of north Sweden are stalked by a malign presence that doesn’t want them to leave.

Stars: Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, Arsher Ali, Sam Troughton, Paul Reid, Maria Erwolter

Director: David Bruckner

Rated: TV-MA

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  For a while, it seemed like Netflix was getting to be a place where cheap-o horror was coming to flourish.  I can’t tell you how many times I was enticed in by an interesting bit of artwork, description, or star rating only to be opting for something else five or ten minutes in because the movie was garbage.  Then, once the company started to become a fledgling-movie studio and wanted to be taken a bit more seriously, you could see a shift in the way they started to acquire content to release under their own banner.  While Netflix would soon get into the game of financing their own films, in order to build out their library they had to track down some quality completed work first.

That’s how they came to procure The Ritual, a nifty little horror yarn based on a 2011 novel by British author Adam Nevill.  Adapted by Joe Barton who helped to give the story a bit more of an arc and directed by David Bruckner (V/H/S), this was another one of those pleasant surprises I wasn’t expecting to enjoy as much as I did.  Like Apostle, what The Ritual may have lacked in overall prestige had it been made in the studio system, it more than makes up for in creativity and atmosphere.  Receiving a small release in the UK before Netflix bought it, it’s a movie I can see not being totally right for theaters but working better as an at-home watch.

A yearly weekend trip for a group of five university friends takes on a special meaning a year after losing one to a random act of violence.  Paying tribute to their fallen buddy by moving forward with his idea of hiking the mountains in Sweden, Phil (Arsher Ali), Dom (Sam Troughton), Hutch (Robert James-Collier, Downton Abbey), and Luke (Rafe Spall, Prometheus) are approaching middle-age and realizing they aren’t the same kind of friends they were in their youth.  They squabble and press each other’ s buttons, clearly missing their one friend who seemed to be the glue that held them all together.  The hike isn’t half over before one is injured and they have to find a way back to town.  Opting for a shortcut through a nearby wood proves a fatal mistake as the men walk headfirst into a place of evil.  Resting for a night in a ramshackle deserted cabin filled with the kind of harbingers of doom that scream “Turn back!”, the men wake up the next morning having had visions of death in their dreams to find strange marks on their body.  As the fear of the unknown mounts, so does the paranoia.  Unable to find their way out of the forest, they delve further inward toward an unspeakable terror waiting to be fed…and it’s mighty hungry.

With a small cast and modest budget, Bruckner does good work by never letting the audience get too far ahead of the game.  There’s a lot of exposition in Barton’s script near the end that has to be conveyed without slowing the action down and it’s nice to see these important final scenes aren’t bogged down by all of this explanation.  As is often the case, the solution isn’t always as interesting as the mystery but The Ritual manages keep us engaged longer than most.  The gore is doled out appropriately and the performances from the men are nicely metered in comparison to the emotional stakes presented to them.

I hope Netflix continues to take cues from successful acquisitions like The Ritual.  While the film may be a bit cliché in some of its crude moments of violence, I liked the quieter times it focused on the men and their relationships to each other.  It produces some more than decent chills and works hard to bring its audience into the mood of the situation.  A cut above, no doubt.