TIFF 2021: You Are Not My Mother

Image courtesy of TIFF

You Are Not My Mother is a fantastic creepy yarn for Halloween frights.

It’s days before Halloween and the Irish celebration Samhain in a Dublin neighbourhood. As the community prepares for the holiday, Charlotte or Char’s (Hazel Doupe) house is quiet. Char’s mom Angela (Carolyn Bracken), is lethargic and listless, sleeping most of the time, and Char’s Granny Rita (Ingrid Craigie) keeps a watchful eye on her. Saddened and preoccupied with her home life, Char isn’t that popular and is a constant target for bullies Suzanne (Jordanne Jones), Kelly (Katie White) and Amanda (Florence Adebambo) at school. When Angela goes missing and returns in the middle of the night, much to the family’s relief, she seems different, and Rita keeps a closer watch. Angela’s increasingly erratic behaviour frightens Char, and a family secret must be revealed to save both mother and daughter.

You Are Not My Mother is Kate Nolan’s first feature film, and I was pleased to see that she also directed the clever 2017 short Catcalls playing on Shudder, where she showed her genre skills. I’m happy to report that her first feature is solid.

I love good folk horror, and the menacing tone that oozes through the movie is great. It helps that Dublin looked gloomy as all get out, and Nolan kept it simple, getting a common folk tale right without reinventing the wheel. Her smart filmmaking hides the fact that she had a limited budget and worked under last year’s second lockdown. Adding to the appeal is Die Hexen’s creepy, primal score that ratchets up the uneasy tone to full-blown panic.

Nolan’s cast is fantastic as well, brimming with understated but powerful performances. Craigie was so great playing Rita, leaving the audience unsure of whether she’s a help or hindrance to Char, and Bracken commits to the mental breakdown of Angela, with some really terrifying moments. You continually shift, wondering if there is something sinister afoot or if she’s going mad. A parent with mental illness is scary for their children, seeing their personality change from day to day. Doupe’s portrayal of a teenaged girl yearning for the lost closeness with her mother was very emotional, and the story didn’t exploit the subject matter.

You’ll enjoy immersing yourself in the dark fairy tale that laces family drama with loads of horror and folklore.

Check out the 2021 TIFF festival here.

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