Char (Hazel Doupe) is a studious but lonely schoolgirl who lives with her mother Angela (Carolyn Bracken) and grandmother Rita (Ingrid Craigie), with her uncle Aaron (Paul Reid) checking in every now and again. Angela has suffered from psychological issues over the years but one day, she disappears leaving nothing behind but her abandoned car. Fortunately, she isn’t missing for long. However, when she returns home, she starts to act particularly strangely. Char becomes increasingly worried about what’s happening with her mother, and experiences strange visions. She becomes convinced that her grandmother knows more than she’s letting on.
Rooted in sinister Irish folklore, writer-director Kate Dolan’s debut feature is an impressive accomplishment. Her direction of the ensemble cast, which also counts Jordanne Jones (‘Metal Heart’, ‘Rebellion’), is excellent and her handling of the ambience required for the horror genre is masterful.
Opening with a horrifying, violent act that involves a baby, ‘You Are Not My Mother’ lovingly embraces embraces makeup and practical effects in its execution of the ominous story. Editing, lighting and camerawork all contribute to the jump scares and frightening images that haunt you long after the film wraps.
Hazel Doupe is exquisite in the lead role, having already impressed audiences in 2018’s ‘Float Like a Butterfly’ and the more recent ‘Smother’. Her character Char escapes from the misery of her home life by diving headfirst into schoolwork. She also has some pretty vicious bullies to contend with.
‘You Are Not My Mother’ attempts to grapple with some pretty big topics which, aside from bullying, include mental health awareness. It’s a theme that has proven problematic in the past when it comes to horrors, as mental illnesses can be villainised in their representation. But Dolan makes an admirable effort to explore the issue and integrate it into the narrative in a way that doesn’t feel cheap, though it is somewhat ambiguous.
‘You Are Not My Mother’ also suffers from that all too common trope of horror movies in that matters are tied up just a little too conveniently by the end. Still, as many horrors as it references, this is a film that feels very distinct to what’s been done before. It’s a different kind of scarefest and while fans of the genre will be impressed, all audiences will be riveted, never knowing quite how it’s going to pan out.