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You Are Not My Mother is in UK cinemas from April 8. 

The music of Irish showband star Joe Dolan was made for folk horror. He possessed a voice heavy with longing – the kind of ghostly crooning you might hear crackling through the tannoy in hell’s waiting room. Director Kate Dolan masterfully deploys that voice to accompany scenes in her low-budget horror debut, You Are Not My Mother, a film about a seemingly depressed woman named Angela (Carolyn Bracken) whose teenage daughter Char (Hazel Doupe) is carrying the weight of her parent’s problems on her young shoulders.

When Angela goes missing, she returns quickly and without explanation to the north Dublin home she shares with Char and her elderly mother Rita (Ingrid Craigie). She cooks away in the kitchen without a care, a supposed lift in mood signalled by her yellow sundress. As she playfully spins her daughter around the kitchen to Joe Dolan’s ‘You’re Such a Good Looking Woman’, we know the serenity will be short lived. The next time we hear its lyrics, it’s to the sight of Angela aggressively contorting her body in a warped modern dance, like a demonic Isadora Duncan, while a terrified Char looks on. “Oh me oh my, you make me sigh, you’re such a good looking woman!” Joe sings, as Angela thwacks her foot down with such force we hear her bones crack against the bog-coloured floral carpet.

Carolyn Bracken as Angela in You Are Not My Mother (2021)
Carolyn Bracken as Angela in You Are Not My Mother (2021)
© Courtesy of Signature Entertainment

We’re left in little doubt that Angela’s “down moods” (as Rita calls them) are rooted in something a prescription of lithium can’t fix. What first seems to be a film about a teenager grappling with a parent’s mental illness descends into a folk-horror fable steeped in Irish pre-Christian beliefs, harking back to a more superstitious time. Instead of a Sacred Heart or a St Christopher’s medal, protection in Rita’s hazy, tobacco-tinted 70s timewarp of an Irish home – where much of the film takes place – is sought through dream-catchers and bound up balls of twigs.

As Angela’s personality disappears further into a state of menace (signalled with the help of mirror jump-scares), Rita decides that her daughter is a ‘changeling’, a creature that can only be purged with fire (a theme taken from not just Irish mythology but the real 1895 case of Bridget Cleary, burned alive by her husband after he became convinced she was a changeling). It’s at this point the film begins to rush towards its incandescent, supernatural conclusion, losing some of the power of its early ambiguity.

You Are Not My Mother is strongest when exploring the relationship between three generations of women (itself a nod to the pagan idea of the triple goddess: maiden, mother and crone) and the ways we deal with unburied family trauma. Some days, we fight to purge it with fire, and others – only a kitchen dance to Joe Dolan will do.