What with Severin’s new big box release, ‘All The Haunts Be Ours’, and it’s companion documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, folk horror is a bit of a cinematic darling at the moment. One country that has always had almost a rolling stock of folk inspired horror, is Ireland. You Are Not My Mother sits comfortably amongst them.
A standard story of this type; relying on the myths of fairy folk, underworlds, and changelings, it feels somewhat more open and grounded than some of its companions. You never really know if what you are seeing is real or in the imagination of the characters. It draws parallels between these mythical monsters and mental health, again a modern conceit, and a familiar one.
We open to a shocking scene, with a grandmother taking a baby into the woods for a ritual, a scene that could potentially alienate some viewers. Flash forward 15 years and that baby is now a teenager known as Char (Hazel Doupe), the only mark of that night a small scar beside her right eye. She lives with her mother, Angela (Carolyn Bracken) and her grandmother Rita (Ingrid Craigie). Char’s mother suffers from severe depression, and her grandmother seems to be obsessed with myths and magic.
While Char is at school, Angela, during a particularly bad bout of depression, disappears. A couple of days later she returns and is markedly different.
It’s a recognisable changeling story, with a few exceptions. Director and writer Kate Dolan has anchored her story in the possibility of inherited mental illness and trauma, particularly affecting the women of the family. The focus seems to be on the need for Char to overcome the troubles that have controlled her family history and take control of her own life. Acting as both coming of age story and horror, it skirts this line effectively.
The troubles are relevant too, as old spites bristle between people. Even in Char’s generation, as she suffers bullying and abuse at the hands of her peers. This all against the backdrop of poverty and an environment where there are multiple missing women, and ongoing religious stigma regarding unmarried mothers.
You Are Not My Mother doesn’t really do much we haven’t seen before. Most of what happens here is covered in between The Hole in the Ground and The Exorcist. That being said, it is effective, disturbing, with good performances and some surprising and compelling moments. It is utterly rooted in Irish working class environments, with the required fairy woodlands being replaced with a copse of trees and housing estates built upon rivers which are prone to flooding. As much a kitchen sink drama as a horror film, and despite the horror elements being derivative, it still manages to impress.
Signature Entertainment and FrightFest Presents release You Are Not My Mother in UK Cinemas and Digital 8 April