Review by Dan Skip Allen
Films exploring mental illness can be difficult to watch because of the trauma it could cause to those watching. It's hard to see people dealing with this kind of thing in films. People deal with these aspects of life in real life, so seeing them on the big screen or streaming isn't the best. The Father, starring Anthony Hopkins, and What They Had, starring Robert Forster and Blythe Danner, are two recent films dealing with mental illness. These are two excellent examples of how mental illness is depicted on film. You Are Not My Mother takes an entirely different approach to the topic.
Char (Hazel Doupe) is a teenager who lives with her mother Angela (Carolyn Bracken), her grandmother Rita (Ingrid Craigie), and her brother Aaron (Paul Reid) in Dublin, Ireland. When her mother leaves the car in a park and goes missing, she worries about her mental state. She also has to deal with problems at school most teenagers deal with, like peer pressure and bullying.
Director Kate Dolan relies on a couple of different things to make the film have a very suspenseful, horrific nature. One of them is the creepy music by Die Hexen. The score is very atmospheric and moody. It helps create a feeling of dread that the film used to perfection. Also, little things like vomiting a tooth or weird dancing help with the film's creepiness. This film goes down a dark path that it may not be able to come back from.
The acting in the film is very good, but also very off at times. The Bracken character is very off-putting. Doupe and her school counterparts are all fine in helping to create an atmosphere of horror throughout the film. The reactions of the girls and the mother are what drive the horror aspects. Giving good performances helps create a better experience for the audience watching.
In addition to the film's mental illness and school bullying aspects, it also has elements involving family and how various characters deal with their family members. How these things can fit into the film is key. They can't be shoehorned in, or they won't make sense in the context of what Dolan is going for. She tries to do too much in this regard. All these character subplots are too much for the film to handle.
Horror films dealing with mental illness and or bullying can work in the proper context. It takes the right mood, which this film tries to create via the music and creepy performances from Bracken specifically. Doupe and the others work within this dynamic Dolan creates. They are very engaging in their performances. I was interested to see how this story progressed, but the end product was a bit too underdeveloped for me. The moody atmosphere worked for the most part, though. A few too many subplots took away from the main focus, but it worked pretty well regardless.
You Are Not My Mother hits VOD on March 25.