You Are Not My Mother: TIFF21 Review

Year: 2021

Runtime: 93 minutes

Writer/Director: Kate Dolan

Actors: Hazel Doupe, Carolyn Bracken

By Caz Armstrong

This low budget Irish horror was written and directed by Kate Dolan. It centres around mental illness, family ties, and the paranormal to bring us a drama which is more atmospheric than scary.

Char (Hazel Doupe) is quiet, intelligent, trying to look after her mum and grandma at home while being bullied at school. Her mum Angela (Carolyn Bracken) suddenly goes missing but soon returns under a cloud of mystery. With her poor mental health and hints at previous incidents, the family try to keep Angela contained. 

But it’s abundantly clear that Angela is not acting like herself. She’s behaving erratically and her actions start to scare Char. As things escalate Char starts to believe that the folktales may be true and her mother may in fact be something else entirely. 

You Are Not My Mother

Muted colours and low lighting are accompanied by a creepy and pervasive score so that we never get a breath of fresh air. We feel like this place is always grey and cold. This is not a rich area and most people are just scraping by with very little resources. 

The horror element here is not particularly strong, it’s more of an underlining to the themes being explored. The film is more unsettling than scary, with no jump scares and not much danger. 

The stronger elements are of superstition and folklore. There are ideas about changelings, cleansing through fire and using talismans for protection. Being set at Samhain, the Celtic festival held on 31st October where the space between worlds is at its thinnest, we are made nervous that the spirits may be able to cross over. 

More important than any horror element is the examination of mental health and family. The most unsettling part is seeing Cher trying to deal with a family member who is increasingly unhinged. She loves her mother, but she’s scared of her. It shows us how terrifying it can be to see a family member losing themselves to mental ill health, or perhaps dementia.

A history of trauma is also not far under the surface for this family, or for many families in the area. It shows us that the ripple effects of traumatic events spread out across whole neighbourhoods. 

“You Are Not My Mother” (2021) is not particularly scary and there’s not a lot of drama. It’s an unsettling portrait of mental ill health poisoning a whole family. For a low budget indie film it does this well but it wasn’t particularly thrilling and may struggle to hold the attention of those used to stronger stuff. 


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