With its strong attention to female filmmakers this year, TIFF offers us Kate Dolan’s feature debut ‘You Are Not My Mother’. An Irish psychological horror film with a twist steeped in lore.

Char (Hazel Doupe) lives in a Dublin housing estate with her grandmother, father and her troubled mother Angela (Carolyn Bracken). The woman is depressed, hardly eats or gets out of bed and moves through the day in a haze. When she suddenly disappears during one of her episodes, everyone expects the worst. She resurfaces some time later, unscathed and … different. What seems like a turn for the better at first soon unravels into something dark and dangerous.

Dolan’s ‘You Are Not My Mother’ fits snuggly into ‘The Babadook’ territory. It’s a slow burn drama that focuses on deep mental issues first and creepy horror tropes last, without them seeming like an afterthought. Jump scares are few and far between in this one, but they are executed perfectly. Yet that’s not what makes this film such a nice genre entry.

The story leaves the viewer largely in the dark about what is really going on. You’re never quite sure if Char’s mother is just suffering bouts of extreme manic depression or if there’s something truly evil lurking behind her eyes. In the end maybe we’re still not sure. Yes, it’s that ambiguous.

The choice to keep the audience guessing indefinitely might have to do with the fact that the Irish lore supporting the maybe/maybe-not supernatural part of the film isn’t really explained very thoroughly. It’s good, but if you’re not that well-versed in Irish folk tales, you’ll be at a loss.

All of this is supported by no nonsense cinematography and really strong performances, especially from the young Doupe, that lend credibility to the proceedings when things start to get crazy.

You Are Not My Mother’ is a solid psychological thriller and first feature from Kate Dolan, whose career we’ll be keeping our eyes on in the future.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Reviewed on September 15, 2021 at Toronto International Film Festival. Rating: TBC. Running time: 93 min. 

PRODUCTION: A Screen Ireland & Fantastic Films production. Producer: Deirdre Levins. Executive producers: Brendan McCarthy & John McDonnell. 

CREW: Director/writer: Kate Dolan. Editing: John Cutler. Music: Die Hexen. Cinematography: Narayan Van Maele.

CAST: Jade Jordan, Hazel Doupe, Paul Reid, Carolyn Bracken, Ingrid Craigie, Martin O’Sullivan & Katie White.

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