The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER

you are not my mother review
A teenage girl suspects something has taken control of her mother.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kate Dolan

Starring: Hazel Doupe, Carolyn Bracken, Ingrid Craigie, Paul Reid, Jordanne Jones, Jade Jordan

you are not my mother poster

Lots of horror movies, and a few non-horror movies, have been set around Halloween. But surprisingly few have been about Halloween. John Carpenter's Halloween may be the best movie set at Halloween, but the best movie about Halloween is its black sheep sequel Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Sure, Carpenter's film brilliantly captures the atmosphere of October 31st in a contemporary American suburb, but for its teenage and child protagonists, Halloween is just about scoring candy, dressing up and getting laid. In Halloween III the series looks back to the roots of Halloween in Celtic mythology, to the feast of Samhain, when the doors between our world and others are temporarily opened.

In Irish writer-director Kate Dolan's highly impressive feature debut You Are Not My Mother (which is actually being released under the title 'Samhain' in some territories, though oddly not in Ireland), those doors open once again, and the question gradually becomes whether something malevolent has passed into our world or whether someone is in danger of exiting through said portal.

you are not my mother review

In 16-year-old Char (Hazel Doupe), we get a classic young horror heroine. We find her dealing with earthly troubles like being bullied and worrying about her mother, Angela (Carolyn Bracken), who lives in such a state of depression that she struggles to get out of bed in the morning. The mother and daughter live with Char's grandmother, Rita (Ingrid Craigie), who believes in "the old ways," curing her ailments with poultices and weaving crosses to ward off evil spirits.

One morning Angela disappears, returning a couple of days later. Something's different about her though. She seems to be forcing a chirpy demeanour, which reaches an over-the-top apogee when she tries to force her daughter to dance along to Joe Dolan in the living room (a gag that may pass over the heads of non-Irish viewers). She now writes with her left-hand. She's secretly throwing up her food at night. She attacks one of her daughter's bullies before submerging herself under water in a local river for an unfeasible amount of time.

you are not my mother review

The body-snatching horror sub-genre has evolved from functioning as an allegory for dehumanisation through totalitarianism in the 1950s to an exploration of urban alienation in the '70s and now in recent films it's been used as a metaphor for mental health issues. Even if no supernatural element were introduced to You Are Not My Mother, the idea of a young girl having to live with a mother she no longer recognises is disturbing enough in itself.

But refreshingly in this era of "elevated horror", Dolan revels in her film's supernatural elements once they're introduced, going full-on monster movie in a final act that's so refreshing in its ballsiness that it may be a little jarring for more jaded and cynical viewers. Dolan's film begins as something of a companion to another recent Irish horror, Lee Cronin's The Hole in the Ground. In Cronin's film a mother begins to suspect her young son has been replaced by some evil entity, while here that dynamic has been reversed. You Are Not My Mother is clearly influenced by classic American sci-fi horror, along with the gritty young-women-in-peril thrillers of late '60s/early '70s British cinema, but it's distinctively Irish in both its mythology and its themes.

you are not my mother review

Over the past decade a lot of new genre filmmakers of my generation have emerged from the UK and Ireland, and I can tell they grew up watching the same movies as myself (we only had a handful of TV channels but horror movies were a programming staple). Dolan's film might be the first time I've seen a filmmaker who not only ingested similar pop culture programming as myself, but also likely shared my childhood fascination with Samhain. Dolan cleverly finds a way to tie her American and British movie influences in with Irish mythology, weaving them together as tightly as a St. Brigid's cross. If you grew up in Ireland listening to tales of Samhain, you'll be thrilled to see such mythology make its way onto the big screen, though you may ask why it's taken so long for an Irish filmmaker to exploit their rich culture in such a way.

But even more so than its use of Celtic mythology, what really makes You Are Not My Mother a distinctively Irish horror movie is how it explores that national Irish pastime of living in denial and ignoring problems until they explode in your face. This manifests subtly in the background, with the central characters living in a home with dripping taps and a front door that needs fixing. In the foreground it more ominously takes shape in how Char can clearly see something isn't right with her mother but fails to act, relying on a misplaced hope that everything will work out in the end, or as we say in Ireland "Ah sure, it'll be grand." Dolan also seems to hint at Ireland's denial of its Pagan past, with council workers constantly dismantling bonfires in the background. In her relationship with a bullying classmate, there's a suggestion that Char may be a closeted lesbian. For Irish viewers familiar with how we let our problems brew until they rise to the surface, You Are Not My Mother is a powder keg of tension. As it reaches its climax, we're no longer sure if it really will be grand.

You Are Not My Mother
 is on Netflix UK/ROI now.

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