You Are Not My Mother is a remarkably confident feature film debut from writer and director Kate Dolan, who tells an eerie tale rooted in Irish folklore, hitting on timeless themes of motherhood and youth coming of age, as well as more timely themes of mental illness, all set against the backdrop of Halloween.
Beginning the week before and culminating on Halloween Night, quiet high school student Char’s bedridden mother, Angela, has mysteriously gone missing, leaving only her car parked in the middle of a field. When Angela returns to their North Dublin home the following evening without any explanation, it becomes increasingly clear to Char and her grandmother, Rita, that something is not right, as Angela is now acting strange, to say the least.
The film is not bathed in Halloween atmosphere, but the approaching holiday, itself rooted in ancient Irish legend, is subtly yet constantly in the air, along with falling leaves and all the colors of autumn.
Small touches weave the last week of October into the story, unfolding as a Halloween bonfire is being planned by some of Char’s classmates, including mean girl bully Kelly (played by Katie White). When Char, played by Hazel Doupe, and her uncle go out looking for the missing Angela, the only photos she can find of her mom are from a previous Halloween. Later when a returned Angela attempts to make a pumpkin intended to be a jack-o’-lantern for dinner, it’s an early clue to Char and Rita that she may not be quite herself since her disappearance.
I won’t spoil the big reveals here, but the reason behind the mother’s disappearance and subsequent odd behavior, and the explanation behind the daughter’s suspicious “birthmark” on her face, all goes back again to Irish myth and folklore, a horror that hits on one of the most universal of human fears – that our loved ones could somehow change or be changed into something else before our helpless eyes.
After some dark family secrets are unearthed, Char believes she knows how to save her mom, but saving her will mean risking the possibility of losing her forever.
Carolyn Bracken is magnetic and often terrifying as an increasingly erratic Angela, turning in a performance that will likely earn her place at the table among horror’s elite.
Writer and director Kate Dolan delivers a potent, engrossing experience that uses a familiar plot setup to maximum effect by cranking up the dread and mounting tension. Things don’t necessarily happen when you think they’re going to, and while some may call this a slow burn, with just a 93-minute runtime, I feel it glides along at a perfect and deliberate pace, letting viewers be gradually immersed into Char’s world.
Like its lead character, it is a quiet film, and I found myself turning up the volume a few times to hear the dialogue during the first half, which has little to no soundtrack music, but the initially sparse score by Die Hexen comes more into form is the climax builds and the full terror and stakes for Char are realized.
An absolute must-see, this one will undoubtedly make many horror fans’ year-end Best Of lists. It’s a welcome addition to any October Halloween movie playlist, and we will definitely be following Dolan’s career as it continues to flourish.
You Are Not My Mother is out now on VOD (watch it on Amazon Prime Video here), from Magnet Releasing.
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