You Are Not My Mother (
directed by Kate Dolan
starring Hazel Doupe, Carolyn Bracken, Ingrid Craigie
In a Dublin suburb Char (Doupe) is being relentlessly bullied by her peers at school. Her home life is a struggle too. Her mother Angela (Bracken) is suffering from some undefined mental illness which sees her spending most of her time in bed and her grandmother Rita (Craigie) is too busy making weird talismans to afford her much attention. Now it’s coming up to Halloween and Angela has suddenly disappeared. When she returns things just start getting worse.
Kate Dolan’s debut feature is a wonderful hybrid of social realism, myth and magic. Doupe shows a remarkable vulnerability as the put open daughter who has to ignore the teasing of her classmates and their suspicions that her and her entire family are “tapped”. Tapped or not, the return of her mother escalates the weirdness as she starts behaving in strange ways including a fantastically staged feral “dance” sequence set to Joe Dolan’s “You're Such a Good Looking Woman” in which Bracken somehow fuses Isabelle Adjani’s subway scene in Possession with Dolan himself in his sweaty showband pomp.
As her mother’s behaviour becomes ever more troubling it is left to Char’s grandmother to reveal the dark secret at the heart of the family. There is a delicate balance between the horrifying yet banal bullying that Char is subjected to and the psychological horror that threatens her from within her own family. For the most part Dolan is in complete control of her material creating an air of unease and incongruous otherworldly menace on recognisably urban streets. This slips right at the last with an ending that seems too literal, too recognisably “horror”, for what has gone before. All of the ambiguity of interpretation that the film has built is pushed aside by an entirely visible monster. The “changeling”, no longer a potential metaphor, becomes disappointingly real in a climactic sequence that is perhaps the one predictable scene in the entire film. That said, overall this is an exceptionally strong debut feature.
You Are Not My Mother is released in cinemas and on digital platforms in the UK on April 8.
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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