The new Halloween-set Irish folk horror film You Are Not My Mother is one of this year’s must-see movies (read our review here), so I was beyond excited to get to talk to writer and director Kate Dolan recently about her feature debut, the folklore and mythology that inspired it, and celebrating Halloween where the holiday itself was born, and where ancient traditions and beliefs are still very much alive, in her native Ireland.
“It’s a big holiday here,” Dolan told us during our recent conversation. “Yeah, we celebrate a lot as kids. You obviously do the trick or treating and stuff, but then there’s also a lot of more like harkening back to the pagan times kind of rituals that you do, like the bonfires that you light in the estates, which are technically illegal, but everybody does it anyway. Then there’s a lot of fireworks, which will start from the 1st of October, and then on Halloween Night it’s almost like a warzone. It’s like constant fireworks just going off all night. Everyone gets involved, everyone’s celebrating. We get a bank holiday around Halloween, as well, so you get a Monday off.
“So it’s still like a big part of the culture, yeah definitely. I just loved it as a kid. It was my favorite holiday of the year, even more than Christmas. I would be counting down the days till Halloween, and I still sometimes do that, as well.
“We’re very close to our pagan roots here. Even though it’s quite a Catholic country, there are still a lot of pagan superstitions. Even like there would be certain foods my mother would make on Halloween Night, which had kind of like mashed potato and kale in it, which is not very Halloweeny, that I always connected to Halloween. My grandmother, she was of the older generation, so she wasn’t as much into the kind of trick or treating Americanized side of Halloween, but she still loved it, and she really got involved and she had her own rituals and traditions that were part of it too.
“Now it’s gotten like the American rituals have crept in more in Ireland. I think last year, maybe after Covid people wanted a big Halloween so much that, more so than I’ve ever seen before, people had all the animatronic pumpkins and stuff in their gardens, which in Ireland you wouldn’t normally see, because people can’t really buy that stuff here. People had these big ghosts and skeletons, and I was like, ‘This is great.’ I think it’s even getting bigger in a way, in a different way maybe. It’s always a great time of year here.”
With a lifelong passion for movies and for the horror genre, and an honest love of all things Halloween, it was only natural for Dolan to set her debut feature film in the days leading up to and culminating on October 31st. On the holiday setting of You Are Not My Mother, Kate tells us, “I was obviously quite interested in Irish folklore. I think as kids in Ireland, you are given a good education of our folklore and mythology. In school even we cover a lot of our kind of folktales and mythology. You’re given a taste of it as a kid, but the funny thing is, you’re always told the stories as if they’re real. Like a banshee is a real thing. You will talk to people, even my grandmother’s and my mother’s generation would somewhat believe that was true.
“It’s like they’re folktales, but you’re always afraid to not believe them, just in case. That’s kind of the attitude in Ireland. Yeah sure that’s not real, but we won’t fully say that, just in case it is a bit real. I always was really intrigued by that. So the folklore elements of You Are Not My Mother were the first building blocks, and particularly the changeling mythology I found really interesting, which is that fairies will swap your baby with one of their own and they’ll take your baby to their world. A lot of people in Irish history believed that was true, and a lot of family members met tragic ends because they were believed to be something else, so their family’s would treat them very badly or, worst case scenario, they would be murdered.
“So all those stories were just really interesting to me, and I started formulating an idea around the changeling mythology. But also I was also interested in how bad things can happen in the past in a family, how they can come back on the younger generation, and the older generation sometimes thinks they’re doing a favor by keeping everything secret and hidden, but actually that ends up making everything worse for the generation coming of age. So the two ideas seemed to work really well, so it just sort of went from there.
“While I was writing, I was reading a lot about pagan history and witchcraft in Ireland. The idea of Samhain… it was this night that the dead could come back or these things could cross into our world that shouldn’t be there, and the time around Samhain was taught to be quite supernatural in that way. So it just felt like the film should be set at Halloween in Ireland, and I felt like I hadn’t seen an Irish Halloween in a film before, so I was like, Well it’s my first feature film, so I can make it be a Halloween movie if I want to, so I’m going to do that.”
In the film, it’s the week before Halloween. Char’s bedridden mother, Angela, has mysteriously gone missing. All that remains is her abandoned car parked in the middle of a field. When Angela returns home to their North Dublin estate the following evening without explanation, it becomes clear to Char and her grandmother, Rita, that something is amiss. She might look and sound the same, but Angela’s behavior has become increasingly erratic and frightening, as if she has been replaced by a malevolent force. As Halloween approaches, a night steeped in ancient Irish myth and legend, Char must unearth the dark secrets of her family in order to uncover the truth behind her mother’s disappearance and save her, even if it means potentially losing her forever.
You Are Not My Mother is out now on VOD (watch it on Amazon Prime Video here).
You can watch our full exclusive interview with Kate Dolan on You Are Not My Mother below.
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