A properly spooky coming-of-age in a house where something just isn’t right story, “You Are Not My Mother” delivers supernatural chills with an Irish accent.
The frights are muted, but the air of dread that hangs over Irish writer-director Kate Dolan’s debut feature makes it an immersive experience, one anybody with “mother issues” will quickly identify with.
Hazel Doupe of “Float Like a Butterfly” stars as Charlotte, “Char” to her family. And if that was her as a wee babe plopped in the middle of a fire in the film’s opening scene, Char just might be somebody’s very twisted idea of a pun.
This North Dublin teen is painfully shy and bullied at school. But that’s nothing like what she leaves behind back home. Her granny (Ingrid Craigie), whom we’ve seen reading a book of spells and lighting that fire in the opening scene, has the look of somebody Hansel & Gretel warned us about. And her mother, the manic, mercurial Angela (Carolyn Bracken) isn’t any prize, either. Getting her to drive you to school might mean grabbing the wheel to keep her from catatonically running into a horse.
A kindly art teacher (Jade Jordon) can say “My door is always open,” but that just confirms what Char dreads. They gossip about her at school. The mean girls have been coached by their parents. There’s something weird about those Delaneys.
Mom disappearing after dropping her at school, finally coming home after everybody’s been out looking for her, is par for the course. We see what granny does when Char’s not there, and whatever this home situation turns out to be, cruelty and violence are sure to be a part of it.
Char can only keep her head down and hope the sociopathic bullies at school don’t do what this family seems to understand is the ultimate punishment — setting her on fire.
Doupe makes Char a depressingly downtrodden kid, eyes always averted, just waiting to be picked on or put upon. She is appalled at her living situation, always shouting “What’s WRONG with you?” at her mother, and suspicious of everybody save her trying-to-help uncle (Paul Reid).
But can he help? And what exactly is granny up to, and how does that impact Char?
The frights are slow-burns here, threats that make us wince, violence that’s lightly applied. And for all the build-up, I found the payoff — the finale — something more smoldering than explosive and fiery.
It still makes for an interesting “really seeing your mother for the first time” thriller, one that takes coming-of-age tropes and supernatural horror cliches and makes them work in this gloomy setting among these superstitious people.
Rating: unrated, violence, drug use, profanity
Cast: Hazel Doupe, Carolyn Bracken, Ingrid Craigie, Jade Jordan, Jordanne Jones and Paul Reid.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Kate Dolan. A Magnet/Magnolia release.
Running time: 1:33