Review: ‘Aisha’ (2022), starring Letitia Wright and Josh O’Connor

May 12, 2024

by Carla Hay

Letitia Wright in “Aisha” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“Aisha” (2022)

Directed by Frank Berry

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland, the dramatic film “Aisha” features a racially diverse cast of characters (black, white and a few Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young Nigerian woman seeks asylum in Ireland and experiences various immigration problems around the same time that she and an Irish man develop a friendship. 

Culture Audience: “Aisha” will appeal primarily to fans of the movie’s headliners and low-key dramas that have realistic portrayals of immigration issues in Ireland.

Letitia Wright and Josh O’Connor in “Aisha” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“Aisha” is a well-acted drama that authentically depicts the quiet desperation and loneliness that refugees can experience. Letitia Wright and Josh O’Connor give poignant performances as two people who form a tender friendship amid immigration uncertainty. Wright portrays a Nigerian immigrant seeking asylum in Ireland, while O’Connor portrays the native Irishman who befriends her. Thankfully, “Aisha” doesn’t devolve into cringeworthy cliches that most narrative films usually have when they cover the complicated and sensitive subject matter of refugee immigration.

Written and directed by Frank Berry, “Aisha” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival and was released later that year in Ireland and the United Kingdom. The movie takes place in unnamed cities in Ireland, where “Aisha” was filmed on location. The story’s timeline shows a few months in the life of Aisha Osagie (played by Wright), who has been living in Ireland for a little more than a year when the story begins.

Aisha, who is in her late 20s, does not have any family members with her in Ireland, where the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) handles refugee cases. She has applied for permanent residency and is waiting for an interview with IPAS officials to determine if her application is approved or denied. In the meantime, Aisha lives with other immigrants in an accommodation center, where she has been assigned by IPAS.

She has a compassionate immigration attorney named Peter Flood (played by Lorcan Cranitch), who has meetings with Aisha to advise her and discuss their case strategy. Aisha doesn’t want anyone’s pity, and she doesn’t want to live off of charity handouts. She wants to be a hard-working, law-abiding resident who can start a new and safe life in Ireland.

Aisha’s story isn’t revealed immediately but is told in various conversations that she has with people. Aisha is alone in Ireland because her father and brother were killed in a home invasion by a group of men who are her father’s debtors. He borrowed money from these men so that Aisha could go to a university in Nigeria. She studied geography and regional planning at the university but had to drop out, presumably because of what happened to her family.

Aisha’s widowed mother Moraya Osagie (played by Rosemary Aimiyekagbon) can’t afford to leave Nigeria. In Ireland, Aisha works part-time as an assistant at a beauty salon and sends some of her salary money back to her mother. A few scenes in the movie show Aisha talking with her mother by video calls. Aisha and Moraya have a very good mother/daughter relationship, but Aisha doesn’t tell her mother certain things if she thinks this information will upset Moraya.

Aisha is a quiet loner who is friendly but doesn’t get too close to the people she meets. However, Aisha has developed a bond with the three people who share a room with her: a young mother named Habiba Momoh (played by Antionette Doyle); Habiba’s son Abdul Momoh (played by Emmanuel Hassan); and Habiba’s daughter Ruykaya Momoh (played by Florence Adebambo). The movie doesn’t show how Aisha got to know this family, but they are also from Africa, and are the closest that Aisha has to family members in Ireland.

A company called Embankment Security works for IPAS in doing inspections at IPAS accommodation centers. A newly hired Embankment Security guard named Conor Healy (played by O’Connor), who’s about the same age as Aisha, first sees her when he and some colleagues are at the accommodation center where she lives. The Embankment Security guards later come back with garda (Irish police), under orders to take away Habiba, Abdul and Ruykaya, who get deported to the United Kingdom.

This separation is understandably very upsetting to Aisha and witnessed by Conor, who is helpless to do anything about it. Aisha is usually quiet, but she also has a very assertive side to her. When the Momoh family is being taken away, Aisha says that the family has a right to call IPAS, but the accommodation center manager Brendan Close (played Denis Conway) doesn’t want to to hear this truth and treats Aisha like a she’s a rebellious pest. Brendan hints that he could make life miserable for Aisha if she continues to question him.

Brendan and Aisha clash during another incident where she stands up to his tyrannical style of managing. One day at the accommodation center, Aisha asks a kitchen worker to heat up a small container of homemade halal in the kitchen’s microwave. Brendan is nearby and strictly forbids it because he says that Aisha and other accommodation center residents can only eat the food provided by the accommodation center.

Aisha and Brendan have a short-lived argument about it. She eventually has to do what Brendan says. Conor witnesses this verbal conflict. When Conor is alone with Aisha, he tells her to meet him later at the kitchen so that she can use the microwave oven for the food she wants to have. It’s the start of a friendship that is tentative at first but grows stronger as the story goes on.

Just like Aisha, Conor is quiet and a little withdrawn. However, he and Aisha eventually open up to each other about certain things in their lives. Conor also has a troubled past: He says he was in prison for six years for drug-related crimes. Conor also tells Aisha that his addictions are cocaine, meth and alcohol, but he has been clean and sober for the past three years.

Conor is currently living with his mother and is taking information technology classes, with the eventual goal to go to college. Nothing is revealed about Conor’s love life, but Aisha eventually tells Conor that she is separated from a husband who abandoned her shortly after the wedding in Nigeria. Aisha is not in contact with her estranged husband, and she doesn’t know where he is.

Conor is obviously attracted to Aisha, and she might feel the same way. But it should come as no surprise that Aisha is reluctant to get romantically involved with someone when she doesn’t know if she will be allowed to stay in Ireland. Aisha tells Conor that up front, but Conor is persistent and shows he wants to be a loyal friend who will be there for Aisha, no matter what happens.

Given these circumstances, a stereotypical movie would morph into an “against all odds” romantic courtship that overshadows the very stressful and life-changing matter of Aisha’s immigration issues. A stereotypical movie would also have Conor be some type of “savior” character. However, “Aisha” does not go down a typical route that movies like this usually take. For example, Conor is not in the movie as much as some viewers might think he will be.

“Aisha” never strikes a false note in showing not only the obstacles that refugees face in seeking asylum but also how authority figures can use or abuse their power in ways that can massively affect refugees. Wright and O’Connor give touching performances that go beyond the immigration issues because Aisha and Conor are both two lonely people who find a connection with each other during a time in their lives when they least expect it. “Aisha” has many moments of bleakness but it also offers hope that people at the lowest points of their lives can find other people who care and can make a positive difference.

Samuel Goldwyn Films released “Aisha” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on May 10, 2024. The movie was released in Ireland and the United Kingdom in November 2022.

Review: ‘You Are Not My Mother,’ starring Hazel Doupe, Carolyn Bracken, Ingrid Craigie and Paul Reid

April 25, 2022

by Carla Hay

Carolyn Bracken in “You Are Not My Mother” (Photo by Cait Fahey/Magnet Releasing)

“You Are Not My Mother”

Directed by Kate Dolan

Culture Representation: Taking place in North Dublin, the horror film “You Are Not My Mother” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After a single mother mysteriously vanishes for a few days, she comes back to her home and seems to be a strange and different person, and her teenage daughter begins to wonder if this mother is possessed by something evil. 

Culture Audience: “You Are Not My Mother” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in predictable but effective horror movies about the supernatural.

Hazel Doupe and Ingrid Craigie in “You Are Not My Mother” (Photo by Cait Fahey/Magnet Releasing)

“You Are Not My Mother” has a mystery that’s very easy to solve, but this well-acted horror movie adeptly maintains suspense in a story influenced by Irish folklore. It’s a solid feature-film directorial debut from Kate Dolan, who also wrote “You Are Not My Mother.” The movie should satisfy people who like supernatural thrillers that can be frightful but don’t wallow in a lot of bloody gore. “You Are Not My Mother” had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

In “You Are Not My Mother” (which takes place in North Dublin), teenager Char Delaney (played by Hazel Doupe) is an introverted loner who attends an all-girls Catholic school. Char is about 15 or 16 years old. Char lives with her single mother Angela Delaney (played by Carolyn Bracken), Angela’s brother Aaron (played by Paul Reid), and Char’s grandmother Rita (played by Ingrid Craigie), who is the mother of Angela and Aaron. Char’s biological father is not seen or mentioned in the move.

“You Are Not My Mother” opens with a scene in the woods, where a baby (played by Dante Woods) is being taken by Rita, who lights a circular fire around the baby. The baby then apparently burns to death. Why would Rita do such a horrible thing? By opening the movie with this scene, writer/director Dolan foreshadows too much of the movie too early. Within the first 10 minutes of the film, it’s obvious that Char’s family has secrets that will eventually be revealed.

Angela has had a long history of depression. In the beginning of the movie, her depression is so debilitating, she is frequently bedridden. One day, Char asks her grandmother Rita for money to take a bus back home from school. Rita says in response: “Why don’t you ask your mother? I’ll get her out of bed.”

Angela manages to get out of bed, and she gives Char a ride to school. However, Angela seems so distracted, Angela almost hits a horse on the road with her car. Meanwhile, Char says, “Mum, we need food in the house. Mum, what’s wrong with you?”

Angela, who seems exhausted and sad, replies: “I’m sorry. I don’t think I can do this anymore.” When Char comes home from school, her mother isn’t there. Later, Char finds her mother’s car abandoned in a field, with a bag of groceries left on the front passenger seat. Angela is nowhere in sight.

Angela’s concerned family eventually contacts the local police to report her missing. Aaron is very concerned that Angela could’ve been kidnapped. A policewoman named Officer Jenny (played Aoife Spratt) has come to the home to take the missing person report. Aaron gets impatient and angry when it’s suggested that, because of Angela’s history of depression, she might have left to go somewhere on her own for a while. Later, Char has a nightmare about finding her mother dead.

When Char’s mother goes missing, it’s just another stress in Char’s life. At school, she is bullied by a group of “mean girls,” led by a snooty brat named Suzanne O’Connell (played by Jordanne Jones), who has her own mother issues that are later revealed in the story. Two of the other girls in this “mean girls” clique are named Kelly (played by Katie White) and Amanda (played by Florence Adebambo), and they later participate with Suzanne in a very cruel prank on Char.

In one of the movie’s classroom scenes, Char is first seen having to interact with Suzanne, who reacts with annoyance when art teacher Ms. Devlin (played Jade Jordan) tells Suzanne to sit next to Char. When the teacher isn’t looking, Suzanne takes some gum out of her mouth and smears the gum on Char’s notes. Char is considered an outcast at this school because she comes from a working-class family who is considered a little strange.

Later in the art class, Char shows Ms. Devlin a drawing that Char made of shadows engulfed in flames. Char tells the teacher that she made the illustration from a dream that she had. It’s a very cliché and obvious clue in the movie.

Another clue is when after Angela goes missing, Rita gives Char a small ball of twigs and leaves, while saying, “I made this for you—for protection.” Why does Char need to be protected? Could it have anything to do with that apparent birthmark on her face?

At any rate, Angela eventually returns to the home after a few days, with no explanation of where she went and why. However, Char and the other family members notice that Angela is not the same person she was before Angela disappeared. This new Angela is more energetic and in better spirits. She even starts doing things like cheerfully making dinner. It’s close to Halloween, so the meal includes pumpkin.

But this new Angela now has a loss of appetite. And this mother, who was once so listless that she could barely get out of bed, is now enthusiastically talking about taking a mother-daughter trip with Char. It’s an idea that Aaron vehemently opposes.

“You Are Not My Mother” is much more of a psychological horror film than a movie that relies on a lot of action-packed jump scares. There are some moments that are meant to induce terror, but a lot of the horror is about what can’t be seen rather than the story being about a killer on the loose. This movie could’ve benefited from more character development, but “You Are Not My Mother” also doesn’t clutter the movie with a lot of unnecessary scenes.

All of the cast members give reasonably authentic performances, but the horror merits of “You Are Not My Mother” are mostly in Bracken’s eerie transformation as Angela. Without this unsettling performance, “You Are Not My Mother” would just be an average or laughable horror movie if mishandled by someone who was miscast in the Angela role. (Fun fact: Writer/director Dolan appears briefly in the movie in the role of a pharmacist.) “You Are Not My Mother” is not a going to be considered a classic horror movie, but it delivers plenty of intrigue for horror fans who are looking for a thriller that explores issues of generational trauma and family burdens.

Magnet Releasing released “You Are Not My Mother” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 25, 2022.

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