Kate Dolan’s promising debut feature opens with an indelible sequence in which a baby in a buggy is parked in the middle of a suburban Dublin street. A woman walks from her house and pushes the infant into nearby woods only to assemble and light a strange, ritualistic fire around the crying child.
Thus begins an unholy marriage of Irish folklore and familial dysfunction. At its best, You Are Not My Mother’s intergenerational portrait of women and strange goings-on recalls the slow-burning Alzheimer’s horror of Natalie Erika James’s Relic.
Hazel Doupe (Float like a Butterfly) stars as a reticent, bullied teenager named Char, who lives with her depressed mum Angela (Carolyn Bracken) and increasingly odd grandmother Rita (Ingrid Craigie). As the film opens, Angela, a mere husk of a woman, is scarcely able to perform such basic maternal responsibilities as grocery shopping, driving her daughter to school, or getting out of bed.
When Angela’s car is found abandoned, with the doors flung wide open, Char and her uncle Aaron (Paul Reid) are inclined to assume the worst, even if it is indicated that this is not an isolated incident.
Angela returns, however, in weirdly irrepressible form, cooking and performing unhinged dancing around the kitchen. Granny keeps pace with her daughter’s strangeness, muttering and fashioning strange amulets.
For much of its impressive duration, Dolan’s film blurs the line between family friction, bipolar disorder and the supernatural. Mother’s lithium dose doubles as a magical sleeping elixir and as a poison. Mysterious mutterings among neighbours mark the family out as outsiders without any particular substance.
Meanwhile, away from Char’s drab home, malevolent peers await. As Halloween approaches, their tricks turn nastier. Thin spaces may await. Die Hexen’s score adds to the post-Carpenter seasonal menace, as does Narayan Van Maele’s lurking camera.
Dolan skilfully escalates her heroine’s predicament even if the final muddled mythological explanation concerning doppelgangers and changelings and fire punctures the effect during the final act. There’s enough here, however, to mark Dolan out as a film-maker.