You Are Not My Mother is director Kate Dolan’s first feature film – and it’s an atmospheric, if not entirely scary, supernatural horror.
The feature film debut from director and writer Kate Dolan mixes psychological horror with Irish folklore to create an eerie, suspenseful, slow burn of a horror film. Everyday life takes a sinister turn for the teenage Char (Hazel Doupe) when her mother Angela (Carolyn Bracken) disappears after taking her to school. Already struggling with her mental health, Angela returns the next day, but seems different. As her behaviour becomes increasingly worrying, Char’s grandmother Rita (Ingrid Craigie) suspects supernatural causes.
The supernatural and the territory and extremely compatible when it comes to horror – just look at how popular The Babadook has become. You Are Not My Mother sets itself apart from its peers by establishing a very Irish identity, using local legend and folklore as a metaphor for Angela’s struggles with mental health. But before it delves into the fictional, it plays the long game of keeping us guessing as to what’s really going on.
Two-thirds of the film is devoted to building that tension, focusing on the perspective of a very frightened Char. Seeing the narrative through the eyes of a child (one who has no idea what’s going on) helps to sustain the unsettling atmosphere that permeates the film. What does it even better is a nightmare sequence near the start that utilises bold red lighting and some really unsettling makeup and practical effects. There’s only one scene like it in the whole movie, and that’s a shame as it really stands out visually in a film that otherwise favours realism in its cinematography and production design.
You Are Not My Mother wouldn’t achieve anything near the dizzying heights of suspense it does without Carolyn Bracken. Her performance as the changed, volatile Angela is really a quite horrifying thing. What begins as simple mood swings slowly morphs into a visceral, animalistic performance. The danger in conflating the supernatural with poor mental health is that it could be seen as painting sufferers as ‘dangerous’ or inherently ‘evil’ (as films in the past have done). Thankfully, by its conclusion, You Are Not My Mother chooses and clearly presents the cause of Angela’s illness, so it fortunately lands on the right side of mental health representation.
As a down-the-line horror film, it is perhaps a bit understated – it’s clearly going for atmosphere rather than genuine no-holds-barred frights. Unlike Char, we won’t be having any nightmares about it, but the lack of reliance on cheap jump scares is commendable and there’s tons of suspense and eeriness. Besides, it’s set at Halloween, and who doesn’t like a good Halloween film?
You Are Not My Mother is in cinemas from 8th April.
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