Here are my reviews for the horror film You Are Not My Mother and the Finnish drama Compartment No. 6 from the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER
You Are Not My Mother begins with an older woman setting a baby on fire in some sort of ritualistic act. If that isn’t a way to grab the viewer’s attention right away. Who is this woman? Why is she doing this? We find out eventually, but it’s a great way to start off Kate Dolan’s terrifying, chilling family drama that is seeped in Irish folklore.
One evening in North London, Char’s (Hazel Doupe) mother Angela (Carolyn Bracken), who lives most of her days in a daze lying in her bed, goes missing. Nobody knows where she went or why she left. But Angela mysteriously returns one night, Char notices some differences in her mother: her attitude, posture, appetite, the whole general vibe of her mother is different. At first, Char likes this new version of her mother. She seems happier and is actually show love and affection toward her bullied daughter. But Angela’s behavior grows weirder and weirder each day, making Char worry that this may not be her actual mother.
Dolan does a brilliant of building suspense, but not hiding any of the weirdness that is going on with Angela. There are a few haunting and creepy moments, like when Char sees her mom over her whole hand down her throat to vomit a black substance, or when Angela has a dance party by herself and dances so hard that she sprains her ankle, yet doesn’t stop dancing or even notice she’s hurt. But Dolan doesn’t show us all of her cards right away and slowly pulls back the layers until we get all the answers, which was surprising and original.
You Are Not My Mother is also an emotional family drama about sins of the past and the importance of a parenting figure. Bracken gives a great performance as Angela. She balances the creepy parts and quieter, more emotional moments perfectly and has great chemistry with Doupe, who is equally as good.
You Are Not My Mother is a creepy horror film and moving family drama. Kate Dolan’s feature directorial debut is impressive and ushers in a new and exciting voice in horror.
Laura (Seidi Haarla) is a Finnish grad student who has just boarded a train headed for Murmansk, a remote city in the Arctic circle, to see the rock drawings. Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov) is reporting for work at the massive mine in the same region. The two are sharing a compartment on a train towards the frozen tundra in director Juho Kuosmanen’s beautifully written and wonderfully acted drama.
When Laura and Lioha meet, Lioha busts open a bottle of vodka and chugs it right in front of Laura. He proceeds to polish off the bottle the first night. Not the greatest first impression for Laura, who desperately misses her lover and continuously questions whether or not this journey is right for her. Lioha continuously tries to make conversation with Laura, though she makes it clear she wants nothing to do with him. But as the ride drags on, so do the interactions, and soon, Laura and Lioha begin to bond and grow closer.
I wouldn’t call Compartment No. 6 a love story, because this isn’t a movie about two people falling in love because of a meet-cute on a train. These are two lonely people who have made bold decisions in their lives to end up on a train headed toward a freezing place nobody wants to be. For Laura, she just left her love and her previous life. For Lioha, it’s a little vaguer, but he is a man with a permanent chip on his shoulder and a man who always seems angry. But they find solace in their loneliness and their decision to go to Murmansk and their relationship slowly grows but not without a few bumps along the way.
Kuosmanen’s direction is top-notch and meticulous. The smallest moments are sometimes the most powerful. Every word matters, every look matters, every sigh matters. Kuosmanen also makes you feel the frigid weather. The heavy jackets, the powdery snow, and slick ice, and the crisp breath allow you to feel just as cold as Laura and Lioha.
Haarla and Borisov are sensational and their performances are the key to the movie. They have great, natural chemistry together, which helps as their relationship grows, but they are also fully rounded characters who have more to them than what is going on in the compartment. Haarla portrays the sadness, regret, and excitement of Laura, while Borisov keeps a lot hidden about Lioha, which makes him as interesting to us as he is to Laura. These are two of the great performances of the year and what elevates Compartment No. 6 to a satisfying, touching watch.
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