Writer/director Kate Dolan’s stark debut is a good example of an elevated genre piece, which is to say, a film that deals with a fairly conventional, almost rote narrative and elevates it to something…else. Set is a grim AF Dublin estate, it’s a restrained horror entry that draws on ancient folklore about changelings and the end of harvest season festival of Samhain. As the wooden pallets are stacked high in public places as preparation for the cleansing bonfires to come, something wicked waits in the lengthening shadows to threaten our protagonist, but what?
Char (Hazel Doupe) is a schoolgirl who has plenty of problems; she’s remorselessly bullied, she’s struggling to realise her obvious talents in the classroom, and her mother Angela (Carolyn Bracken) has…abruptly changed somewhat. Previously all but bedridden, Angela just about manages to give Char a lift to school, but after going missing, returns in a strangely rejuvenated form that arouses the girls’ suspicions. There’s lots of local rumours about the fairy folk and changelings, swapping themselves into our loved ones for their own designs, could any of these stories be true?
A certified hit at 2021’s Toronto Film Festival, You Are Not My Mother is a supernaturally-themed drama which manages to rejuvenate some ancient clichés; we’ve seen too many children’s scary drawings, but it makes sense for Char to depict her earliest memories of a pagan ritual via a piece of artwork for her teacher Mrs Devlin (Jade Jordan). And rather than look up old books and ogle pictures of mythical monsters, the oral traditions spoken by Char’s grandmother Rita (Ingrid Craigie) run neatly alongside Char’s class trip to a heritage site where the Samhain legend is carefully explained.
Having dodged the usual clichés, Dolan manages to work up an off-kilter but not oppressively doom-laden atmosphere, and to get strong performances from Doupe, Bracken and Craigie; the only significant male character Aidan (Paul Reid) is quickly dispatched with an involuntary lithium overdose. There’s a strong Celtic connection to be exploited here; my local minister Robert Kirk was rumoured to have been stolen away by the fairies in nearby Aberfoyle, and it’s an event still spoken of in hushed tones by the locals today. While most horror films are just silly, You Are Not My Mother is sufficiently well versed in the lore of both past and present to make it a must-see for genre fans who dare to tap into the dark and dangerous world that lies beneath.
Signature Entertainment and FrightFest Presents release You Are Not My Mother in UK Cinemas and Digital 8 April 2022.