Candid Cinema

TIFF ’21: ‘You Are Not My Mother’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Kate Dolan’s feature debut You Are Not My Mother is an eerie Irish folk horror that will keep you at the edge of your seat. Dolan sets the tone for this film at the very beginning with some supernatural elements that eventually tie into the relationship between mother and daughter. A young teenager named Char (Hazel Doupe) knows something strange happened to her mother Angela (Carolyn Bracken). She can’t quite put her finger on it, but when she returns home, after being missing for a couple of days, she isn’t quite the same. Dolan brought the suspense, the graphic imagery, and addressed mental health in a different way.

Dolan creates a very creepy atmosphere within the confines of Char’s home. Yes, the house is filled with her uncle and grandmother, but it still feels empty. Even without her mother Angela in the home, Char has nightmares of what her mother could have gotten herself into. The dream sequences are terrifying, when combined with the rough cuts, haunting score, and the graphic images. We do see some normalcy from Angela, only for it to escalate within seconds, causing Char to be scarred by the drastic change.

What starts out as a daughter caring for her mentally ill mother eventually spirals out of control. It’s incredibly difficult to tend to someone who can constantly change their attitude or even their persona. That’s where Dolan works the anxious horror scenarios into the film. Anything can change in an instant, so the experimental vivid imagery that plays in Char’s mind blends with reality in different ways. Watching your mother do questionable things, while trying to help her through her breakdown is very challenging to watch from a teenagers perspective. Where they are old enough to understand what is happening but still do not know how to approach the situation.

You Are Not My Mother is anxiety-inducing and scary in all the right places. The framing of certain scenes, combined with the eerie score and vivid images, make for an entertaining midnight watch. Dolan’s feature debut is impressive and will make you want to see more from her in the future. She has a way of getting under your skin with her visual storytelling and the jump scares worked in different ways. It’s always fun to experience new filmmakers and their ability to surprise their audience with a different perspective.

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