If Irish cinema was to walk away with anything from the cinema world is that it excels at its dramas. Although there have been achievements in comedy and other genres, there is always a certain level of drama that gives the characters the depths that are so truly needed in many films. It may seem that we may been over-burdened with so many different titles in the last number of years such as Patrick’s Day (2014) and Glassland (2015) to only name a few. But Mammal continues this tradition with a genre that still remains consistent in its quality and hopefully so for years to come.
Margaret (Rachel Griffiths) leads a lonely existence. After walking out on her family many years ago, her husband Matt (Michael McElhatton) returns with the news that their son, now in his late teens, has disappeared. When young tear away Joe (Barry Keoghan) enters her life, she has a second chance at being the mother that she could never bring herself to be. After inviting him to stay in her home, the two embark on a bizarre relationship of friendliness and maternal comforts. Which leads them to find the places in their hearts that neither of them had ever found before.
Firstly, hats off go to the brilliant cinematography by Lennart Verstegen. In particular the underwater sequences, although scarce, are perfect moments which encapsulate Margaret’s true feelings of self-isolation. The blue shades of the water followed by the starker blackness of the sea water in later scenes, are perfect reflections of her true character.
Rachel Griffith’s Margaret is the perfect embodiment of the true feelings of depression, and her self-containment in exuding any forms of feeling are incredibly moving although haunting in the overall delivery, which works perfect for the films overall tone.
McElhatton is great as the grief-stricken former husband who is trying to come to terms with his recent loss, and is what gives the film its humanity. Keoghan is surprisingly good in his role as the troubled youth, who has no redeeming qualities in his nature outside of Margaret’s knowledge, but his strange bond with her is something very special in the most unlikely of characters.
Director Rebecca Daly has done a very fine job getting the performances needed out of all of these characters. And as bleak as the subject matter is, it’s the levels of animosity shared between Margaret and Joe that gives its viewers something very unique and bizarre, a rapport that gives these lost souls some level of humanity.