VOD film review: You Are Not My Mother
James R | On 09, Apr 2022
Director: Kate Dolan
Cast: Paul Reid, Hazel Doupe, Ingrid Craigie, Jordanne Jones, Carolyn Bracken
“Families are the scariest thing on the planet.” Those are the sage words of a teenager in Kate Dolan’s intimate psychological horror, which finds its resonance in the void that can open up between you and the most familiar people in your life.
The film follows Char (Hazel Doupe), a Dublin schoolgirl with a mother, Angela (Carolyn Bracken), who hasn’t been herself lately. Apparently depressed and refusing to leave her bed, Angela abruptly goes missing with no explanation, then suddenly reappears and begins behaving like a completely different person. While Char tries to work out what’s going on, her grandma (Ingrid Craigie) suggests more supernatural reasons for Angela’s changing moods.
Carolyn Bracken’s fantastic as the mother, managing to be at once heartfelt and horrifying. Delivering a physical and emotionally intense turn, she turns what could be a passive cypher into a rounded and complex figure. The result is an ambiguous and mysterious force that opens up themes of intergenerational conflict, unspoken trauma and mental illness, while also allowing room for talk of changelings and possession. Trying to make sense of it all, Hazel Doupe is fantastic as the confused and disoriented teen, who is surrounded by shadowy secrets, not least of which is her red birthmark that seems to echo her fiery namesake.
Making a confident directorial debut, Kate Dolan balances the intriguing, elusive truth at the heart of this family affair with splashes of body horror and flashes of haunting nightmares. The script’s blend of domestic creepiness and folklore isn’t as well balanced as, say, Natalie Erika James’ Relic, particularly in the final act, with some of the most interesting questions around maternity and perceptions of motherhood left unexplored. But Dolan’s ability to conjure up an atmosphere is wonderfully effective, opening with the chillingly simple sight of a baby crying alone in the woods – the unsettling mood still lingers after the end credits.