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You Are Not My Mother (2021) Review

Writer/director Kate Dolan opens her debut feature You Are Not My Mother with an ominous scene of a baby sitting in a stroller in the middle of a dark street before being wheeled out into the woods. Once there it’s placed in a fairy ring which is then set alight. Cut to the present day. The baby survived, though not without scars, and now Charlotte (Hazel Doupe, Property of the State, Float Like a Butterfly) is a smart but quiet girl who has to deal with an immense amount of bullying from the likes of Suzanne (Jordanne Jones, Metal Heart, Rebellion) and Kelly (Katie White, This Day).

Her mother Angela (Carolyn Bracken, A Date for Mad Mary, The Lodgers) however is even more obviously disturbed and finally vanishes shortly before Halloween, or Samhain if you prefer. She eventually returns, but Charlotte is convinced something is different about her. But as she starts to figure out what, she also starts to uncover some dark family secrets.

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If you’ve taken any courses on folklore or the history of literature, then the plot of You Are Not My Mother is going to sound very familiar. Dolan has tapped into the tales of fairies and changelings for her film’s inspiration.  She even includes the wise old woman in the form of Charlotte’s grandmother Rita (Ingrid Craigie, Citadel, Death of a Ladies’ Man) who gives her a charm of protection but may also be harbouring ulterior motives.

My intention with You Are Not My Mother was to create a frightening film that depicted an authentic coming of age experience while also tapping into the dark folk history we have in Ireland (the birthplace of Samhain/Hallowe’en.)

Kate Dolan

Unlike most folk horror, You Are Not My Mother has an urban setting and the grey concrete environment helps make the story feel less familiar. As does the film’s indeterminate time frame. It’s never stated that the film takes place in the past, but the lack of cell phones or people Googling for information seems out of place for the present day. It’s not a major factor in the plot, but it’s just off enough to help maintain the sense of unease the film builds.

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That sense of unease is important because, while it does have some jump scares, You Are Not My Mother is another film that’s more about atmosphere than actual scares, especially through the first half. Once Angela returns and begins acting not just odd but, at times, animalistic that does begin to change somewhat, but never becomes a full-on scare film.

Slow-burning character-driven horror isn’t easy to pull off and can very easily end up boring. You Are Not My Mother occasionally feels a bit slow at the beginning, but most of the time Dolan gets the balance right and keeps the proceedings from dragging. She also had the good sense to keep the running time to a relatively short ninety-three minutes, which helps avoid giving the plot opportunities to bog down.

Ireland has been the source of quite a few genre films over the last few years, many of them rooted in folklore, ranging from the incredibly quiet and sombre A Dark Song through Beyond the Woods to the boisterous Boys from County Hell. And while it is one of the quieter ones, You Are Not My Mother does build to an ending that packs a solid punch. You Are Not My Mother is available on VOD and Digital platforms via Magnolia Home Entertainment. It comes to Blu-ray and DVD on June 21st. You can check the film’s website for more details. Looking for something similar to You, Are Not My Mother? FilmTagger has some suggestions.

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