You Are Not My Mother Review: This Irish Folklore Horror Pic Will Give You The Creeps [TIFF 2021]

"I can't do this anymore." So says Angela (Carolyn Bracken), the weary mother of high schooler Char (Hazel Doupe) at the start of "You Are Not My Mother." That Char doesn't think much of the statement is an indication that Angela has said this sort of thing before. She looks like a woman barely holding herself together, and her daughter has grown used to that. But after Char gets out of school for the day, she finds her mother's car abandoned, the driver's side door wide open. It's an ominous sign, and Char thinks something bad has happened. Her uncle Aaron (Paul Reid) also thinks so. But her grandmother Rita (Ingrid Craigie) is behaving strangely.

Before anyone has very long to worry, though, Angela returns home with no real explanation as to where she was. And if that weren't weird enough, she's suddenly acting ... different. Instead of being the clearly depressed, barely-functioning woman we met at the start of the film, she's now chipper and outgoing, as if she were angling for a mom of the year award. You'd think a kid who spent the last few years with a morose mother might welcome this. But it's just too odd, too unexplained for Char to handle. 

Writer-director Kate Dolan's "You Are Not My Mother" unfolds at a deliberate pace, and while you might figure out what's going on before some of the characters do, it still sweeps you up with its atmosphere of unstoppable dread. Set in the days before Halloween, where bonfires await, everything here is gray, and wet, and foreboding. The world looks as if it's constantly under cloud cover, and mom issues aren't the only thing Char has to deal with. She's also tormented at school by bullies. Simply put, the girl can't catch a break. Then there's the issue of the past. The film opens with Char having a chilling nightmare in which someone appears to set a baby on fire. It's a stunning opening scene, and instantly sets the mood for the dread to come. 

Steeped in Irish Folklore

"You Are Not My Mother" is steeped in Irish folklore, with ominous omens and talismans popping up. Char's grandmother clearly knows more than she's letting on, and the film starts to grow a bit repetitive in the way Char will press her gran for answers, only to get none. In fact, there are times when it really feels like "You Are Not My Mother" is spinning its wheels — there's just not quite enough story here to sustain an entire film.

And yet, there are plenty of standout moments that will burn their way into your brain. One particular sequence involves Angela dancing around the house, and while that sounds pleasant enough, Bracken's performance here is threatening and frightening, and the way Dolan films it all is enough to give you an anxiety attack. The Halloween-adjacent setting lends a certain spooky charm to the whole thing, and Dolan has a knack for strong visuals, such as a scene where a character pulls down a Halloween mask while a flock of birds flap in the gray sky in the background. 

But still, I wanted a little bit more. The folklore elements, with talk of faeries and changelings, is all well and good, but it doesn't appear to add up to much. It also all feels a little too similar to another recent Irish folk-horror flick, "The Hole in the Ground." But those seeking a moody, atmospheric horror pic with more than a handful of unsettling moments will likely find much to love about "You Are Not My Mother." And the next time your mother tells you she "can't do this anymore," you might want to pay attention. 

/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10