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Interview: ‘You Are Not My Mother’ Writer/Director Kate Dolan

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You Are Not My Mother

Kate Dolan’s feature film debut You Are Not My Mother is a compelling take on the changeling folklore. The film shifts the legend’s typical focus from a paranoid parent to a concerned child, whose fear of her ever-changing mother grows day by day. Powered by strong performances from a talented cast and stark images that paint a bleak and dreary picture, the film stood out as one of my personal favorites from 2021’s Toronto International Film Festival (read my full review here).

I had the opportunity to sit down with Dolan to discuss her film and the folklore behind it.  

Kelly McNeely: Films like The Hole in the Ground and The Hallow also feature the changeling mythology of Irish folklore, but have more of a focus on the child being the changeling. I really love that You Are Not My Mother has the angle of the parent being the danger, rather than the protagonist. Can you talk a little bit about that decision, and where that idea came from? 

Kate Dolan: Yeah, definitely. I think, as you know, the traditional changeling mythology in Irish folklore is that the stories you hear more are that the baby gets swapped for something else. And that’s kind of always the thing. And it’s also in Scandinavian mythology as well, they have changelings and it’s usually babies. But there’s actually a lot of stories in real life – in the history of Ireland – of people hearing these stories about changelings and fairies and believing that their family members were something else. 

So there actually were a lot of accounts of adult humans who believed that their husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, who were adults were swapped with a doppelgänger – a changeling or something else, like a fairy. And particularly, there’s one story of a woman called Bridget Clary in 1895 which really caught my attention, which is about this woman who – apparently now they think she just had the flu – but her husband thought she was a changeling and he burned her in a fire in their house. She was murdered, and he was arrested. But he said that he believed she was changeling, which just really intrigued me because it was kind of just that ambiguous idea of like, did he really think that? Or was what else was going on there? 

And just kind of that ambiguity of what’s real and what’s not real, and the unknown of it all. So that just kind of really intrigued me. So yeah, it was something that I hadn’t really seen before, and I wanted to tell a story about mental illness and family, and somebody coming of age in a family where that’s happening. And that kind of mythology just felt like the right way to tell that story. And because there were these parallels with mental illness and folklore and people believing their relatives who probably were mentally ill were changelings, and that kind of thing. So it just felt like kind of the right way to tell the story.

Kelly McNeely: I really love again, with Angela’s depression, and there’s sort of a relationship between Char and Angela, that sense of duty and responsibility that comes in a parent-child relationship. And it’s interesting that that’s kind of flipped between Char and Angela, on where the duty and responsibility lies. Can you talk a little bit about that as well? 

Kate Dolan: Yeah, definitely, I think what we wanted to do was tell a story about trauma and family and how that kind of comes back on a family. Events that have happened in the past always kind of come back to haunt you. And particularly as a generation coming of age, it’s kind of a time when Char is at an age where she starts to find things out about her family. And I think we all kind of reached that age where you’ve stopped being a child, and you’re not quite an adult, but you’re, you’re kind of given a lot more responsibility in terms of emotional responsibility, and other kinds of more domestic responsibility, that kind of stuff. 

So just trying to kind of capture a moment in that – particularly as somebody’s coming of age – where you have a parent who’s mentally or physically ill, and you kind of have become a caretaker, because there’s nobody else to do that for them. And the weight of that burden and that kind of responsibility, and how scary that can be and how isolated. So that was something we just really wanted to capture.

And then yeah, I suppose there’s kind of a passing of the baton – from the grandmother to Char – over the course of the film that then by the end Char is kind of almost a protector of the family. She kind of has an obligation to be there for the next time something scary happens, you know what I mean? It was very much about that and just kind of trying to capture that.

Kelly McNeely: I noticed that there’s a bit of an ongoing theme of horses in the imagery, is there a particular reason for that?

Kate Dolan: In Irish folklore, we have this other world that’s populated by Aos sí, which are basically the faeries – for want of a better word – but it’s not like they’re like Tinkerbell fairy kind of faeries. It’s hard to use the word fairies to zoom in and capture them, because basically there’s loads of different classifications of them. The Banshee is technically part of Aos sí as well. So she is a faery from that faery race, and then there’s one creature – a kind of character within that folklore – called a Puca, which basically mostly manifests as a black horse that will cross your path when you’re traveling home, or you’re trying to get home, and it’s like a bad omen, basically. If you allow it to hypnotize you and draw you in, it will bring you to the other world and take you and away from the world you live in now. It can manifest as a horse, or a black hare, or its own kind of manifestation, which isn’t very much described, but it’s meant to be very frightening. 

So we wanted to include that, but also the film’s obviously a very Dublin film, like North Dublin, where I’m from. And even though it’s near the city, there’s a lot of housing estates where people will have horses kind of tied up in the greens. And so it was kind of part of the landscape of Dublin as well, but it felt like the folklore kind of bleeding into the everyday. 

Kelly McNeely: Clearly there’s an interest in folklore and the fae, is that something that has always been of interest to you, or did that come out of doing research for this film? 

Kate Dolan: Oh, yeah, I’ve always really been really interested in it. You know, I think – as an Irish person – you’re kind of always told the stories from when you’re a kid. So you have a vast knowledge of the various myths and legends and the other world and all those kinds of characters populated from a young age. So you always know, and it’s often told to you as if it’s true. My grandmother had a faery ring in her back garden – which is mushrooms in a ring, which kind of happens naturally – and me and my cousin were picking them one day, and she was like “You can’t do that! That’s a faery ring, the faeries will come after you if you do that.” And that’s like a gateway to their world, and it’s all told to you as if it’s real. And then as I got older, I was like, I’ve researched more and read about the real world impact of the folklore, and learning stories like what people believed and why they thought that, and the more pagan – actual pagan – rituals and traditions that were almost more like a religion then, I suppose. And that was all really fascinating. So the film allowed me to explore it more in depth than I had, but I definitely had it always kind of in the forefront of my mind.

Kelly McNeely: And are there any other folklore stories that you would like to dig into a little bit for a future film? 

Kate Dolan: Yeah, I mean, there’s so many. The Banshee is a very iconic character. But I think she’s not really evil, I think you can’t really make her an antagonist because she just is an omen of death. So you just hear her screaming and that means somebody in your household is going to die that night. And so yeah, I’d love to kind of tackle the Banshee at some point, but it’s difficult to crack. But there’s also a legend call that called the Children of Lir, which is basically about this king who marries a new queen, and she doesn’t like his children. And she turns them into swans, and they’re trapped as swans on the lake for hundreds of years. The king is devastated and heartbroken, and eventually, they get turned back, but it’s kind of a really strange and unusual legend of Ireland, and one that’s very visually iconic as well. So there’s so many. I’ll have to make lots of movies.

Kelly McNeely: What got you interested in becoming a filmmaker? What inspired you to take that step?

Kate Dolan: Um, I don’t know. It’s just something that’s always been in my DNA. I grew up with my mum. She was a single mother and we lived with my grandmother for a while when I was a kid, and they both – my grandmother and my mother – were very into film, and they loved watching movies. My grandmother had an encyclopedic knowledge of all the kinds of old Hollywood movie stars and stuff. 

We would always just be watching movies all the time. And I think it just kind of sparked something in me, that I just loved the medium and that way of storytelling. And then unfortunately – to my mother’s despair – she kind of planted the seed, and then I wouldn’t let it go and just kind of kept this dream alive. And now she’s seeing it’s kind of paying off, but for a while, she was like, why won’t you just do medicine or law or something? [laughs]

Kelly McNeely: Is your mum a horror fan as well? 

Kate Dolan: No, not really. But she’s not squeamish. It’s funny. She just wouldn’t seek out to watch it now. She wouldn’t really like watching horror movies, she’s scared of them. But you know, she has kind of a weird taste. I think her favorite movie is Blade Runner. So she’s not meek and mild, she does like kind of the more weird stuff, but horror movies, straight-up horror, she doesn’t really love them because she gets too scared. But she did like You Are Not My Mother. So I have the mother’s tick of approval. That’s like, that’s like 50%, I don’t care what the critics say after that. [laughs]

Kelly McNeely: What got you interested in horror? 

Kate Dolan: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s one of those things I always asked myself and I tried to trace it back to something. But I think I just had an innate love of anything weird and spooky. Do you know what I mean? Like, I loved Halloween as a kid, I would be counting the days to Halloween, more than Christmas. And I loved anything scary. I read all the Goosebumps books,  and then I graduated to Stephen King. I don’t know where it came from, I just loved it. And you know, obviously still now I’m such a massive horror fan and anything kind of in the horror space, whether it be novels, film, TV, whatever it is, I kind of consume as much as I can. 

Kelly McNeely: What’s next for you? If there’s anything you could talk about? 

Kate Dolan: Yeah, I have two projects in development in Ireland, one of them is the script is almost finished. So, um, possibly either of them could go next. They’re both horror projects as well, horror feature films. You never know, you kind of have to have lots of pots on the boil as a horror filmmaker in general, but I always kind of have loads of things just kind of cooking, and you have to see what will pop up next, but I think the horror space for sure for the foreseeable future, so I’m not venturing into any kind of rom-coms, or anything like that.

Kelly McNeely: You mentioned that you consume a lot of the genre. Do you have anything that you’ve read or watched lately that you just absolutely loved? 

Kate Dolan: Yeah, I really loved Midnight Mass. I’m of Irish Catholic upbringing, so it kind of hammered home in a deeper kind of PTSD kind of way. I was like, oh, going to mass, horrible! [laughs]

But I was reading Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig on my flight over here, and I thought that was really cool. It’s a really interesting book, really kind of surreal, and a lot of fun. I really want to go see X. I might go see that tonight in the cinema. I love Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and people are saying it’s kind of like an unofficial Texas Chainsaw movie.

Kelly McNeely: And this is a very cliche question. But what’s your favorite scary movie? 

Kate Dolan: The Exorcist was like, probably the film that scared me the most when I saw it, because of the Irish Catholic guilt, probably, as well as like being afraid you’re gonna get possessed by a devil or something. But I love kind of campy horror, like Scream and Scream 2. I would rewatch Scream over and over and over again, because it’s kind of like a comfort movie. Some films I love but you’re like, I can’t watch that right now. But I think the Scream movies, I can watch anytime and I’ll be in the mood for it.

 

You Are Not My Mother is available now in theaters and VOD. You can check out the trailer below!

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‘Children of the Corn’ Adaptation Headed to Theaters and Shudder

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It’s been almost 40 years since Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton got into it with “He who walks behind the rows,” in Fritz Kiersch’s Children of the Corn, based on a story by Stephen King.

Today, Deadline reports that director Kurt Wimmer’s film will finally get a theatrical release on March 3, with a Shudder streaming release on March 21. But don’t get too excited, because this isn’t a remake or even a reboot. Wimmer has said this version has “almost nothing to do” with King’s original short story or the ’84 movie.

“We went back to the story and free-associated from there,” the director told Variety.

You may also notice the dateline for production is 2020. It was big news at the time that Wimmer was going to shoot his movie in Australia during the height of the COVID pandemic. Through safety protocols including social distancing, they managed to get through it.

Producer Lucas Foster said at the time, “You can theorize all you like about safety protocols, but until you get on set, you don’t really know. But I can now tell you it is impossible to keep a camera crew 1.5 meters apart.”

This updated take on King’s short story doesn’t appear to involve a married couple on a road trip at all. Instead, it is an origin story about how all the adults in the small town met their murderous ends.

Children of the Corn follows a 12 year old girl in Nebraska who is possessed by a spirit in a dying cornfield. She recruits the other children in her small town to go on a bloody rampage and kill all the adults and anyone else who opposes her. A bright high schooler who won’t go along with the plan is the town’s only hope of survival.” — Deadline

Make sure to keep checking back to iHorror for the trailer once it drops. And let us know whether you like the concept of moving away from the original story, or if you would have liked it to follow King’s short story more closely.

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[Sundance Review] Brutal ‘Talk to Me’ Might Be Festival’s Best Midnight Title

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Australian horror movies are some of the best of the genre. They aren’t afraid to push the limits of both stories or gore. It’s apparent from the beginning that Talk to Me is moving across — way across — those same lines. 

In this film, zoomers are caught in the supernatural crossfire after performing a trendy seance challenge by using a preserved hand and forearm of a psychic. This is their gateway to the other world where demons plot to manipulate human lives. All it takes is to shake the outreaching hand like a “test your strength” carnival game to make contact. It’s also a great Tik Tok ready experiment where views are likely to climb.

With all their teenage pomp, when these friends get together, it feels a bit like HBO’s Euphoria with a Conjuring twist. I’d even go so far as to compare it to The Evil Dead, the monsters here are just as intense and ugly. There is also a heavy James Wan influence from back in his Insidious days. Couple all of these things with a Creepypasta-type story and you can imagine what kind of hell is going to cross over.

At first, the teens have fun getting possessed one by one, filming each scenario. That is until one of them is overtaken by a forceful spirit that violently injures its host by forcing him to bash his head against hard surfaces. But not before manipulating him to pluck out his own eye and then squeamishly performing in a tongues-and-all-make-out session with a pet bulldog. You read that right.

The brutality is unhinged. 

The adults are certain the teens are doing hard drugs in the aftermath of the injuries. If only real drugs were the case. The kids get a “high” on these possessions, but in doing so, have unknowingly ripped a hole between the real world and the hereafter where evil spirits come through and manipulate the game’s participants. 

Our troubled protagonist, Mia (Sophie Wilde) is convinced she has made contact with her dead mother through one of the sessions. It’s a heartwarming moment, the only one, in this relentless barrage of disturbing images you can’t unsee.

The film is directed by YouTuber twins Danny and Michael Philippou. Despite their small screen medium, these guys have a future on larger venues. Talk to Me is an amalgam of mined ideas but this duo makes them better. Even as far as sticking an almost perfect landing which you know in this genre is a rarity. 

It’s also refreshing to see them allow our main character, Mia, to slowly slip into madness without pulling cheap stunts just to appease the intended audience. Each scare is purposeful, each monster is developed and what they have to say is important.

Wilde never lets the genre get the better of her. She plays Mia with a subdued sense of weakness. You can see, had it not been for the passing of her mother, this young lady would not fall under the traps of silly peer pressure. To pull that many layers out of an actress is not the result of an expensive acting workshop, but the sign of a future star honing her craft.

It appears the directors saw the talent in Wilde and focused on that instead of some of the other actors. Alexandra Jensen as Jade plays the supportive best friend, but not to the levels of a final girl we are used to. And Joe Bird as Riley, the possessed one, is terrifying as the harbinger of hell.

The Philippou’s probably screamed out loud when veteran actress Miranda Otto (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Annabelle: Creation) said okay to the script. She is amazing in everything she does. She brings polish to an already shining movie.

There isn’t much fault to be pointed out in Talk to Me. The cinematography deserves a slight upgrade, and the collective ideas of past works are undeniably present, but the film never tries to improve upon those ideas by being extra. It’s fully aware that it is borrowing, but what the filmmakers pay back is worth far more than what was taken.

Talk to Me is a part of the Midnight section of Sundance Film Festival 2023.

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[Sundance Review] ‘In My Mother’s Skin’ is a Horrific Fairytale

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From the opening shot of Kenneth Dagatan’s In My Mother’s Skin, viewers are warned of what they are in for. It’s a vision of starved dead bodies, but as the camera pans to the left, something is feeding on them.

This scene takes place at the end of World War II in the Philippines. A young man named Aldo and his family are held captive by a troop of Japanese invaders who hijack his mansion looking for an alleged stash of gold. 

Aldo heads out on his own in the dead of night to get help, leaving his sick wife (Beauty Gonzalez) with their two children, a daughter named Tala (Felicity Kyle Napuli), and a young son, Bayani (James Mavie Estrella). After a day, the former is certain her father has been killed, and to sway her thoughts, she and her brother set out to search for him, but encounter a strange but beautifully dressed woman in a rundown cabin.

Dagatan (Ma–2018) pulls a heavy amount from Hansel and Gretel at this point. But infuses his fairy tale with horrific images of a country at war, including its gruesome casualties, their faces frozen in terror left to decompose in the open.

In My Mother’s Skin: Epicmedia Productions

In addition, unlike the Grimm tale, the antagonist isn’t a fearsome old witch, but a beautiful woman dressed in regal finery with a holographic winged fascinator highlighting her face. The movie leans in heavily toward the Virgin Mary symbolism. It’s not quite a Guillermo del Toro creature creation, but no less unsettling. 

The director teases his audience determined to keep them curious about underdeveloped parts of the storyline. Some may call this a slow burn. For instance, the ailing mother is given a cure by her daughter — a gift she receives from the fairy —- but its effects are seemingly malevolent and she appears to become slowly possessed over a period of days. 

The film suggests that believing in something out of desperation might be comforting in the short term, but if said belief is only disguised as good, how mindlessly controlling is faith? And is it too late to undo what has already been done? This is also a metaphor for war and greed, two of the film’s other contentions. 

In My Mother’s Skin: Epicmedia Productions

Only part of the horror in In My Mother’s Skin comes from the mother’s gradual possession. The other is how young minds, like Tala’s, when left to fend for themselves often react impulsively without critical thought. This is in contrast to Disney’s homogenized world where children have the ability to lead without experience, face evil using alchemy, and survive horrific situations, emerging mentally unscathed. 

For our heroine Tala, just like Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth, the harsh universe in which she lives hints at a path leading to the realms of fantasy. But that world, helpful in the short-term, is just as corrupt, filled with its own deceptive beasties.

What In My Mothers Skin makes painfully clear in its own narrative is that religion, especially Catholicism, and its precepts, mirror fairy tales and are littered with blind faith. Tala’s expansive house has alters dedicated to Catholic deities but their protective power never materializes even as forces, both human and supernatural, wreak havoc upon them. Dagatan seems to be saying that evil is the only power that will show itself to humans in real-time while faith compensates later.

In My Mother’s Skin is a grandiose fairytale steeped in Guillermo del Toro’s influence. Beautifully framed landscapes are dimly lit in a gray-blue scale, befitting a world filled with dread and tragedy.

Napuli gives Tala a false sense of resilience in her teenage blind ambition. She wants to be the strength that saves her family, but she is just misguided. As a young actress, this can be hard to express in live action, maybe better suited for a Disney voiceover, but Napuli takes on the challenge with terrifying aplomb.

Dagatan (and we the viewer) know his story isn’t headed toward a Disney ending. His princess, bloodied and affected, has endured too much for that. It is in the final words of dialogue before the credits roll that this film projects its wisdom unto the audience, but like in most deceptive fairy tales endings, there really is no “Happily Ever After.”

In My Mother’s Skin is a part of the Sundance Film Festival 2023 line-up.

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