There’s an irony in seeing Samhain returning back to Ireland as Halloween. One movie that ties its Celtic roots in particularly well with the denizens of the Otherworld is You Are Not My Mother. Written and directed by Kate Dolan, it’s an intensely creepy film set in Dublin as Halloween approaches. A dysfunctional family of grandmother Rita, mother Angela, and daughter Charlotte have a family history of changelings. As the tension grows in the family the viewer, and Char, must decide whether to believe her mother or her grandmother. Particularly disturbing are the actions of Char’s classmates as they bully and threaten her in truly horrific ways. All of this happens as Halloween nears and adds to the uncertainty.
I really don’t want to give too much away as this is a movie well worth watching. It satisfies an October itch. It’s also a fine example of both “elevated” horror and folk horror. Although filmed in Dublin, the landscape—particularly the river, plays an important role in the story. The film even helps us out by having a museum tour explain what liminal spaces are and although much of the action takes place indoors, these outdoor places are essential. There’s an awareness of landscape and what it implies regarding the Otherworld. As with much intelligent horror, there’s little bloodshed but plenty of tension. And the moody atmosphere of overcast Irish skies makes it possible almost to feel the chill in the air.
The families shown in the movie are working class, which adds to their emotional resonance. Houses are lived in and not spic-n-span. Work provides enough to get by but not much else. In a strange way, having the Otherworld break through in such circumstances isn’t all that unusual. Here is something to anticipate, to look forward to. Something that might lift you out of the mundane workaday life. Folklore began long ago and served a similar function, I suspect. Surviving is difficult work. Even the tradeoff in modern times of giving most of our waking time to our jobs is a reflection of this. It’s not difficult to believe that there’s something a bit more stimulating, if dangerous, out there. Something we want to avoid but that we can’t help but be fascinated by when we encounter it. Horror offered by women directors is often thoughtful in that way. You Are Not My Mother will help to set the mood for Halloween, as it’s done in the old country. In its own way, it’s a changeling.