A dark and disturbing Irish horror tale
In debut director Kate Dolan’s suspenseful horror film, Char (Hazel Doupe), a bullied teenage girl who has no real friends to speak of, discovers some startling truths about her family history.
As audience members, we already know that something is amiss with Char’s relations, as the opening scene flashes back into the past to a freakish woodland ritual involving Char as a baby and her grandmother. We don’t quite know what is going on in this scene but it becomes clear later in the movie that the ritual is key to the subsequent events that happen in Char’s life.
When we are taken forward into the present day, we see that Char lives a lonely, oppressive existence with Angela, her mentally ill mother, and her downbeat and doom-spouting grandmother on a Dublin housing estate. Her life is as grim as the claustrophobic grey streets that surround her. Her mum won’t get out of bed, her gran is unable to express any kind of familial love, and the girls at her local school physically and emotionally abuse her.
If it wasn’t for the supernatural aspects of the plot, this could have been yet another miserable Irish drama revelling in themes of poverty, class, and family dysfunction. Thankfully, it’s a little more than that, with a story that weaves in elements of ancient folklore as it tells the story of Char and her discovery that something dark and dangerous is poisoning her home
It would appear that Char isn’t the only person who recognises something is wrong as local parents warn their kids to stay away from Char and her “tapped” family. It’s as if they know something about the family’s dark past but like us, they probably don’t quite know what their secrets are, as the movie isn’t quick to reveal the troubling truths that lie within its abstract plotting.
Despite the puzzling story, there is always the sense that something bad is going to happen, so while we are never completely sure what is going on (bar a few references that leave us clues as to the answer), the movie manages to retain interest because of its foreboding atmosphere.
Things take a weirder turn when Char’s mother goes missing after abandoning her car on the local green. We are never given a clue as to her actual location but when she eventually shows up again, she is radically changed. Gone is the depressed woman we saw before as Angela suddenly appears happy, optimistic, and seemingly back to her old self.
It’s almost a relief to the audience as well as to Char to see her mother well again. As the poor girl doesn’t have a lot in her life to cause her feelings of happiness, it’s nice to see her circumstances improve when Angela makes a positive transformation. Unfortunately, it’s not long before Char’s life is upended once more as her mum clearly isn’t well at all, despite those false appearances. The woman dances in a crazy fashion, screams, shouts, and hits the ground with her fists, and in a scene that has to be seen to be believed, somehow manages to stick her arm down her throat.
It’s clear that all is not right with Angela and according to Char’s gran, the woman she believes to be her mother isn’t her mother at all! And that begs the question… who is she? It’s clear that she is less than human – the arm down the throat is evidence of that – but if the woman living in Char’s house isn’t Angela, where did her real mother go? Is she still missing? As ever with this complicated and oblique movie, the answers to these questions aren’t immediately obvious.
Things go from bad to worse for Char as the woman in her house begins another transformation. This time it’s more physical than mental and this is where it becomes a fully-fledged horror movie. Char is forced to flee from her home on Halloween night as the deformed person she believed to be her mother starts to chase her around the streets of the estate. From where the movie goes from here, we won’t say, so as not to divulge any further spoilers.
This is a strange movie indeed and while it’s not entirely satisfying, it can still be applauded for the strong acting and the doom-laden atmosphere. Horror fans might feel a bit short-changed as the movie often plays like a social drama rather than a terror tale, but at least it has a more thoughtful narrative than most, with a larger focus on urban realism than the ancient magics of Irish mythology that have been played out on the screen many times before.
You Are Not My Mother is currently streaming on Netflix in the UK so if you’re looking for something slightly different to watch for your late-night viewing, you might want to give this one a go. It’s not as horrific as the similarly-themed Candyman which also featured a housing estate and an unusual mutation but if you don’t mind a little bit of family dysfunction within your horror movies, you might still get something from this dark and disturbing tale.
Verdict - 6.5/10