You Are Not My Mother 2* (TIFF 2021)
Dir. Kate Dolan
Language: English / Country: Ireland / Genre: Horror / Runtime: 93 min
"An eerie Irish folk horror wherein a teenage girl’s mother goes missing only to return with an increasingly uncanny change in personality." (synopsis by TIFF)
As the credits rolled to less than half-hearted applause (uncharacteristic of a Midnight Madness crowd) I turned to my friend, Will, who had finally emerged from underneath his coat. He told me, “listen man, I don’t know about you, but that was a great podcast.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t even agree with him on that. And over the course of our post-film debrief, we came to realize what an utter disappointment You Are Not My Mother had been for both of us.
Disappointing first and foremost because it lacked the Midnight Madness spirit. If you’ve read my reviews on Titane and Dashcam, you know that the Midnight Madness programming is usually exceptional; designed to elicit howls, screams, and applause from its tipsy audience (drinks weren’t served this year, but in the spirit of tradition, most audience members toasted a few beforehand). Barring the crowd’s enthusiastic “ARRRRR” as TIFF’s piracy notice flashed across the screen, You Are Not My Mother played to complete silence, for its entire duration. Not an attentive silence; an indifferent one.
"You Are Not My Mother played to complete silence, for its entire duration."
Was it scary? Well, enough for Will to sink under his jacket whenever a night scene began (he’s not a horror person. Hence why I brought him along). But this speaks less to the effectiveness of any kind of atmospheric chill than to the film’s by-the-books following of horror-film convention. Eerie music, jump scares, and the occasional “Ahh! Look, she’s standing there in the background!”
The major focus of the post-screening Q&A was the film's only redeeming scene; a dance sequence where the mother stomps, pounds, twirls, and eventually breaks her own foot in a fury of passion. The filmmakers generously attributed the scene’s striking effect to its choreographer, and rightfully so. Yet the success of this sequence in fact points to one of my major issues with the film; while occasionally a certain department's work will shine, there is little evidence of unity in the efforts of the filmmaking team; Even if choreography, cinematography, or acting reaches a brief crescendo, nobody peaks at the same time.
"There is little evidence of unity in the efforts of the filmmaking team…"
The greatest problem lies in the film's portrayal of its female characters. In line with this year's festival theme, empowering women in the industry, the main players behind this film are all female; Director Kate Dolan, stars Jade Jordan and Hazel Doupe, and producer Deirdre Levins (all of whom were present at the screening). The true horror of this film was that every major female character was depicted as manic or hysterical; capped off by the film gleefully painting a mother suffering from mental illness as a monster. Empowering women? These messages are backward.