Mammal review: brilliant depiction of unspoken needs and muffled emotions

Michael McElhatton nicely balances Rachel Griffith’s deadened cool in Rebecca Daly's film, but it is the young Barry Keoghan who walks away with the picture

Nerve endings and swagger: Barry Keoghan in Mammal

Film Title: Mammal

Director: Rebecca Daly

Starring: Rachel Griffiths, Michael McElhatton, Barry Keoghan

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 100 min

Thu, Mar 31, 2016, 16:30

   

Can the timing be a coincidence? Margaret (Griffiths) learns that her 18-year-old son - who she abandoned in infancy - is missing, presumed dead, just as she befriends Joe (Keoghan), a shiftless teenager living on the streets of her rather unsavoury borough.

She offers the youngster room, board and a degree of mothering until the relationship takes on a decidedly Oedipal hue.

We’ve seen similar displaced relationships before: think Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole and Strangerland, or Toni Collette in an earlier Irish film, Glassland. But director Rebecca Daly has something to add to the sub-genre. The filmmaker’s knack for carnality is sounded out by wailing tomcats, whose nocturnal sound-offs punctuate the night scenes, and by sudden outbursts of violence.

Michael McElhatton, playing Margaret’s grieving ex-husband counterbalances Griffith’s deadened cool with spluttering hurt. Together, Griffiths and Daly tease out unspoken needs and muffled emotions from a heroine who is as minimally rendered as the film itself. Against their careful zen, it’s young Barry Keoghan who walks away with the picture with a depiction that’s all nerve endings and swagger.

He is one of the picture’s many males who square up in alleys, not unlike their feline counterpoints.

In common with many Juliette Binoche characters, prior to Joe’s arrival, Margaret’s only social life involves swimming at the local pool. Or more accurately it involves submerging herself at the bottom of the local pool. When she and Joe take to the water, her sudden splashing and laughter echoes even further than the watery acoustics should allow.

Echoes and doubles abound. Joe and Patrick. Margaret and Joe’s mother. As with Daly’s debut feature, The Other Side of Sleep, none of this architecture is writ large. It remains, like Margaret, down below the surface. Long silent stretches and cinematographer Lennart Verstegen’s static framing add to the sense of emotional suffocation.