Quiet and meek Charlotte lives with her granny and mother in Northern Dublin, Ireland. When Charlotte’s mother spirals into one of her depression fits after dropping off Charlotte at school, her mother disappears without a trace only to return a day later, wandering into their home in the middle of the night. Happy to see her mother acting jovial, the teen aims to reconnect the mother-daughter bridge that has long been under disrepair due to severe mental depression, but she then notices a string of fits, fits not concerning depression but of violent, erratic behavior too frightening for Charlotte to believe that this person who came back home in the middle of the night is the same person, her same mother. When her Granny suspects that mom has been replaced with a changeling, Charlotte and her new best friend Suzanne seek to uncover her mother’s true self on Halloween night when the barrier between our world and the spiritual world is at its thinnest.
There are many customs and cultures surrounding Halloween for various countries. Sometimes, the day that most of us horror fans look forward to every 31st day of October every year isn’t always about dressing up in costume, obtaining bags upon bags full of candy, doing mischievous pranks, or even sitting down to marathon the Michael Myers’ “Halloween” franchise. For UK, specifically in Northern Ireland, bonfires light up the land on Halloween,” or what is called Samhaim, for an array of reasons, one more traditionally being to keep evil spirits from crossing over from their dimension and into ours when the “All Hallow’s Eve” barrier between the two realms near kiss in proximity. Today’s Irelanders set ablaze bonfires more for an extravagant, beer-drinking party than to defensively thwart the uninvited spirits from gliding into our world and this becomes the Halloween backdrop for Kate Dolan’s written-and-directed, debut feature length folklore horror film, “You Are Not My Mother,” as a battle against the supernatural hidden in plain sight as one of us, a doppelganger. Dublin-based Fantastic Films (“Vivarium”) and the sweeping Screen Ireland compose as the film’s production companies with “Vivarium” and “Sea Fever’s” Deirdre Levins as producer.
The touch and go fragile battlegrounds of where children tiptoe on already severely fractured eggshells around their parents debilitating and volatile depression can be tough to capture on screen. The voyeuristic hesitancy of sunken melancholy keeps the child around the fringes and ever guessing their parent’s rotating state of mind and “The Green Sea’s” Hazel Douple, as the teenage daughter Charlotte, nicknamed Char, and Carolyn Bracken (“The Dublin Murders”), as the unstable mother, connect strongly with that unnatural relationship imbalance. Douple is perfectly reserved with Char’s mother’s erraticism, witnessing, and conveying a different response with just her eyes, every emotional stage washes over her mother from listlessness to jovial dancing to complete abusive rage, a range Bracken unnervingly does so frighteningly well. Eventually, Char would need to realize the truth that her mother’s manic behavior is not solely due to a mental health issue but a malevolent fairy issue and need to break the chains of restraint to save the only parent she has left. There’s no mention of a father figure throughout the narrative and could only speculate that the father either past or hightailed the relationship due an infinite amount of reasons with one being more prominent against mom’s harmful instability. Amongst the multi-generational, female-driven, character story is the top matriarch in Granny, played by “Citadel’s” Ingrid Craigie, who is positioned awkwardly as a bypassed presence and not really substantial weight bearing down on the contentious tension in the house they all share together. Granny’s off-putting and mysterious ever since the opening scene with a layer of understanding and occultism hardly tapped into or even with a slight of exposition as she builds talismans and goes off to visit a friend to discuss Char’s mother. Paul Reid (“The Ritual”), Jordanne Jones, Katie White, Jade Jordan, and Florence Adebambo co-star.
“You Are Not My Mother” continues to be a tsunami of new wave UK horror washing onto the shores of theatrical, digital, and home video platforms and any film that starts with burning a baby just might be okay in my book. No, I’m not a psychopath, I just like to be overcome by dreadful content; yet, though the Kate Dolan cinematic accession as a feature film writer-director doesn’t start with perfection with the story burdening more wrinkles than the direction I’ve already touched upon the mishandling of Granny and her connection to a supernatural belief goes without say that her role as mediator falls severely short of development key to Char’s total comprehension of her mother not really being her mother due to XYZ reason. The backstory also tries to reinstate itself into the present story but can’t shape up from its gelatinous yarn, giving little for Char and the audiences to work off of and take all that is happening with good faith on face value. There are continuous instances of this weak bridge connection between characters and events as we also see between Char and a school bully Suzanne who instantly become best friends after a single shared connection that’s not poignantly stabbing, but for the narrative, it’s enough for Suzanne, who wants chewed gum and stuck it on Char’s school notes or help set a photograph of her mother on fire, to open up a soft spot instantaneously without a hurtle to overcome. Where “You Are Not My Mother” succeeds is in the character and story driven parameters without relying heavily on gratuitous special effects with enough practical to scare the wits out of you and firmly no CGI to supplement the creation of Carolyn Bracken’s facial dysmorphia, like a disturbing happy face emoji, as a replaced mother.
“You Are Not My Mother” is a Halloween movie, an Irish folklore Halloween movie, prickled with Samhain traditions at the very core of Kate Dolan’s story. The film is slated for a March 25th release in theaters and on demand from Magnet Releasing. The 93-minute folklore horror is equally matched by its rifting, soul-stirring composition from the Belfast-based and worldly-sound of Die Hexen who also double-dips as sound designer, blending sometimes delicate but often jarring synthesized ensemble of sound. Narayan Van Maele’s cinematography has an overcast austere, almost icy, in the rendering of what is usually a lush in greenery and rich in historical, old-world place, but the Maele’s wide and long shots are engrossing accompanied by a tighter edge that often feels cramped when inside the house, good for close quartered domestic contention in the family drama parameter. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits for this film. If not for Carolyn Bracken and Hazel Douple’s fiery and lucid performances to keep glued to, “You Are Not My Mother” would simply fall apart at the seams, squandering much of the Irish folklore that already hangs by a thread.