Weird behavior is one thing, but what course of action would you take if your mother quite literally was someone else? Perhaps the most appropriately-named movie of the year, You Are Not My Mother is an eerie Irish horror film from debut feature writer/director Kate Dolan. The flavor of horror is difficult to pinpoint—occasionally it feels new-school Ari Aster, but its sinister doppelgänger delights brought the chilling imagery of The Exorcist central in my mind.
A disturbing cold open sees a baby stroller abandoned in the middle of the street, steered deep into the nearby woods, and dumped unceremoniously into a nest of flames. That is certainly one way to get viewers ready for a wickedly bleak horror drama! Char (Hazel Doupe) has noticed her mom acting dazed, tired, and generally spaced out. It gets worse when they almost hit a horse in the middle of the road, with her mom slumped over in a haze. After this, Char’s mother completely goes missing, but then just as quickly returns home.
Char knows something is amiss after she spots her mom shove her whole hand deep into her own throat. The mother’s behavior becomes increasingly bizarre and erratic—the mom transforms into more of a ghastly creature by the second, a shell of what she once was before. Seizures, bodily cracking, and horrifying creepy faces in reflections—You Are Not My Mother!
The film is set at Halloweentime, and director Kate Dolan thankfully plays this up at least once by having her monster run amuck through the streets to scare children. Char, bullied by kids for having a burn scar and a troubled family life, is an interesting crux for our twisted tale. Hazel Dupe plays her with the realistic conviction of a concerned family member. As the multi-layered plot unravels, Char remains the anchor that helps keep the more outlandish elements grounded in reality.
Atmosphere and style exude from nearly every frame. I noted but a few flaws in You Are Not My Mother. The hopefulness of the ending clashes against the rest of the film’s bleaker tone. The weaving in of Irish folklore plays a tad on the clumsy side. Ghastly nightmares are tired and stale, even when a fresh spin is attempted. All of these things only bring the film down a few pegs from being perfect. However, story-wise, You Are Not My Mother may be my favorite familial horror drama since Hereditary.
You Are Not My Mother screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.