A baby in a pram sits alone on a deserted nighttime street. A young mother stretched out on a bed, limbs bound and head shrouded. A teenage girl cowers before classmates threaten to set her on fire.
These are just some of the chilling images in Kate Dolan’s captivating feature debut, ‘You Are Not My Mother’, a chilling fusion of Irish folklore and family secrets. At once deeply metaphorical and genuinely disturbing, the film hovers anxiously around Char (Hazel Doupe), a withdrawn and bullied teenager who becomes increasingly alarmed by the erratic behavior of her mother, Angela (Carolyn Bracken). When Angela disappears, only to reappear the next day without explanation, the mystery of her whereabouts is only deepened by the unpleasant reaction of Char’s grandmother (Ingrid Craigie). In this household, the silences scream.
Set just outside Dublin in the lead up to Halloween, You Are Not My Mother leaves much of its supernatural thrust to vagueness and allusions, focusing instead on Char’s reactions to her mother’s terrifying transformation. With a pale face and big eyes, Doupe is heartbreaking; but it’s Bracken who has the more challenging role, flashing from hostile to loving, stern to vulnerable, energetic to almost catatonic. In a startling scene performed for Joe Dolan’s toe-tapper “You’re Such a Good Looking Woman,” she slowly turns a simple dance into a petrified rampage.
Imaginative and haunting, “You Are Not My Mother” shows how terrifying — and stigmatizing — a parent’s mental illness can be to a child. Locked up in her suffocating suburb, where steely skies descend on squat rooftops (the wonderfully moody cinematography is by Narayan Van Maele), Char is alone. If she were to find a champion, it won’t be from her house.
you are not my mother
Not judged. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes. In theaters and for rent or sale on Amazon, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.