MAMMAL (Ireland|Luxemburg/15A/92mins)
Directed by Rebecca Daly. Starring Rachel Griffiths, Barry Keoghan, Michael McElhatton, Nika McGuigan, Joanne Crawford, Johnny Ward.
THE PLOT: Griffith’s loner Margaret is happy to keep her circle of activity between her second-hand clothes shop, her daily dip in the local pool, and being alone in her home. Margaret hardly moves outside of her daily routines, but you feel that she may be silently running from something. And when her ex-husband (McElhatton) turns up with news that the son she abandoned all those years ago has gone missing, the news sparks Margaret into offering her vacant spare room to Joe (Keoghan), a feral teen she recently nursed back to health after finding him passed out and bleeding behind her shop.
Soon, these two losts souls are swimming ever closer to one another…
THE VERDICT: Irish filmmaker Rebecca Daly enjoys exploring the spaces inbetween, those moments where nothing is said, and everything is revealed.
It was there in her 2011 feature debut, ‘The Other Side Of Sleep’, Antonia Campbell-Hughes sleepwalking through her life as she struggled with loss in a small midlands town. And it’s there in Daly’s second feature, ‘Mammal’.
A hit on the festival circuit since debuting at Sundance last year, and co-written by Daly once again with Glenn Montgomery, Mammal is a film that offers no crashes or bangs, and only a handful of wallops (well, it is an Irish film, after all). Largely a two-hander, with some fiery support from the mighty McElhatton, the kick here is ‘Mammal”s subtlety.
Review by Paul Byrne

Review by Paul Byrne
3.0Wonderfully subtle
  • filmbuff2011

    The kindest way to describe Rebecca Daly’s debut feature The Other Side Of Sleep would be to say that it was difficult to digest but still promising. She builds on that promise and delivers a superior second feature with Mammal.

    Margaret (Rachel Griffiths) is a woman of few words who runs her own used clothes shop and lives out an unremarkable existence. Her estranged former husband Matt (Michael McElhatton) comes calling, having finally tracked her down. The teenage son that she barely knows has disappeared, causing Matt to go into a panic. While closing the shop one night, she comes across an injured youth, Joe (Barry Keoghan), on the footpath. She helps him and bandages up his hand. He leaves the next morning. Then she sees him at the swimming pool later on and approaches him. She tends to him like the son she used to have, encouraging him to temporarily fill the lodger vacancy that she has in her house. The two become drawn to each other – the quiet, lonely Margaret and the rough, violent Joe who lives in the shadows of his thuggish friends. An unlikely bond forms between them – they are kindred souls after all, but separated by gender, age and class. But is Margaret trying to fill the void that her son has left behind?

    Mammal is a brave and unflinching film that shows a deepening level of maturity from Daly and her co-writer Glenn Montgomery. The script has characters that are well-written without being over-cooked. Dialogue is pared back to a minimum, but it doesn’t feel awkward. There are oceans of feelings being expressed by Margaret and Joe – a sense of longing and belonging, as well as youthful playfulness and discovery. For example, there’s a lovely sequence where Joe takes Margaret for a drive and she jumps into a cold lake. It’s like he’s woken something up in her.

    A great script wouldn’t work without great actors. Veteran Australian actress Griffiths, who we don’t see enough of in films these days, is an under-played revelation as Margaret. Keoghan, recently seen in the disappointing Traders, gives a very raw, physical performance. But he also gets at the depth of Joe’s character, conveying a troubled background but also hinting that he’s really just a lost young man trying to find direction in his life. It’s ultimately a film about mothers and sons. There are no false notes here and Daly does a credible job of portraying an affecting relationship despite an obvious age difference. Mammal is an assured second feature that lingers in the memory after the credits roll. This reviewer is certainly intrigued to see what Daly has in store next. ****