Review: Irish horror film ‘You Are Not My Mother’ mixes folklore, family drama | Deviations
As an avid reader of books on paranormal phenomena in the 70s and 80s, I discovered the story of the Cottingley Fairies when I was still young enough not to question the veracity of those involved. I was not the only one to keep an open mind on the subject: even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had vouched for the validity of the series of photographs taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths between 1917 and 1920. For those who unfamiliar with the story, the photos were taken by two young cousins to a garden in the village of Cottingley, West Yorkshire. The footage appears to show winged fairies interacting with the girls.
Although some skeptics at the time called them false, Doyle considered them visible evidence of psychic phenomena. He was wrong: the cousins finally confessed in 1983, admitting that the photographs had been made using cardboard cut-outs.
They maintained, however, that they were indeed observing fairies in the garden.
According to the Encyclopedia Mythica, folklore fairies are tiny supernatural beings resembling small people, male or female, who inhabit an imaginary region called faerie. They can be benevolent or malevolent. Modern perceptions of fairies have been irrevocably distorted by Walt Disney – who gave us not just Tinker Bell but also Flora, Fauna and Merryweather; Cinderella’s fairy godmother; and Pinocchio’s Blue Fairy – as well as the Italian series “Winx Club”, which became popular with North American audiences on Nickelodeon.
Most modern depictions of fairies focus on benevolent beings. For examples of malevolent fairies, you usually have to look to horror.
“You Are Not My Mother,” an Irish horror film written and directed by Kate Dolan, was released March 25 in theaters and on video-on-demand via Magnolia Pictures and Magnet Releasing. It’s a slow-burning thriller that incorporates both psychological horror and supernatural aspects. The premise is based on traditional Irish folklore, but Dolan keeps the characters firmly grounded in their 21st social quagmire of the century.
In the days leading up to Halloween, teenage Char (Hazel Doupe) lives with her mother, Angela (Carolyn Bracken), and grandmother, Rita (Ingrid Craigie). Angela, who suffers from severe depression, disappears after dropping Char off at school. Char discovered his car abandoned in a vacant field.
The next day, Angela reappears at the house, with no explanation for her absence.
At first, Angela appears rejuvenated – but her behavior quickly becomes erratic, bordering on riotous and savagery. Over the next few days, Char and Rita will both recognize that something is seriously wrong with Angela – though the two will come to different conclusions. This is the part where the fairy tale comes into play: specifically, the once widely held belief that fairies could abduct an attractive and promising human baby and replace it with an inferior replacement – usually a sickly or evil entity known as the changeling name.
Dolan’s expert use of tone and texture helped saturate each scene with a palpable sense of dread and private misery. Family secrets play a big role in “You’re Not My Mother,” and the viewer shares Char’s confusion and frustration. In addition to the horror that evolves under his own roof, Char must simultaneously deal with social awkwardness, lack of close friends, and violent school bullies.
Every moment of “You Are Not My Mother” seems designed to make the viewer uncomfortable. Its dark atmosphere, stifling angst and growing tension combine with the brilliantly unsettling performances of its talented cast to establish a dark emotion as well as a sense of empathy for the burden of responsibility assumed by Char.
The film’s climax feels both rushed and rote, and it fails to integrate the divergent themes that have surfaced throughout the story. Although it lacks strong emotional catharsis, the ending resolves the film’s main storyline. The fact that Dolan couldn’t find a way to treat chronic mental illness and his collateral trauma is a major disappointment.
That doesn’t mean “You’re Not My Mom” isn’t worth your time. Dolan comes across as a confident and capable director on her feature debut. The film also shows that she’s willing to take a chance on moving away from conventional horror tropes and finding inspiration in older European myths and legends.
“My intention with ‘You Are Not My Mother’ was to create a chilling film that portrays an authentic coming-of-age experience while tapping into the dark folk history that we have in Ireland,” Dolan said in his production notes. “I wanted to capture a moment when you are forced to grow up quickly and even though the weight of the world may be placed on your young shoulders, you are also still treated and treated like a child.”
Dolan said much of the film was inspired by her experience of mental illness in her family, and also tapped into the struggles of women from different generations that she witnessed growing up.
“Irish women have been abused throughout history in this country and I wanted to create something that represents and celebrates strong women from different backgrounds and experiences,” she said. “I was raised by multiple generations of strong women and that’s something we don’t see enough of in movies.”
Dolan’s female leads live up to and exceed expectations in “You’re Not My Mother,” though their strength lies in their determination, intellect, and capacity for mercy and compassion.