Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Mammal - after Margaret, a divorcée living in Dublin, loses her teenage son, she develops an unorthodox relationship with Joe, a homeless youth. Their tentative trust is threatened by his involvement with a violent gang and the escalation of her ex-husband's grieving rage.
"The film has an intensity that creates its own tension." | Photo: Govinda Van Maele

The story is rich with potential, subtle and brave as if powerful performances can carry the weight alone, which they can't because co-writer/director Rebecca Daly has no concept of pace. The film is so slow and predictable that anticipation cripples the emotional impact.

The synopsis, however, is a tram ride away from the obvious, especially at the beginning. Margaret (Rachel Griffiths) lives alone, works in a dress shop and likes to go swimming. Actually what she likes best is holding her breath for minutes and staying underwater.

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She was married. She had a son. But that's in the past and she has cut herself off from those memories, those people. She is cold to the touch and does not encourage intimacy and yet is an attractive woman, the brighter side of middle age.

One day her ex-husband turns up. Their teenage son has disappeared. He gives her a Missing poster, with his smiling face looking out at her. She says that the boy has not been there, has made no contact. She tells him to leave.

The next evening she finds a body lying in her back yard, unconscious and wounded. He looks like her son. She carries him into the house and cleans his gashed hand and puts him into the spare room.

His name is Joe (Barry Keoghan). He stays. She lets him stay. Is it because he reminds her of that other boy, the son she abandoned, or does she feel the need to help him, a mother's instinct to heal the afflicted?

The film has an intensity that creates its own tension. Joe is damaged, violent, rough, suspicious of trust, incredulous of kindness. He and his mates sniff glue, beat people up, live on the edge of the edge and don't give a penny's worth of dirt for authority, or anything else for that matter.

Margaret and Joe. Joe and Margaret. Margaret and Joe and her ex. A collision course? A romance? A killing?

These questions hang in the air like rain clouds. There is no wind to blow them away. There is no downpour. There are scenes that drag. There are moments that linger and linger longer.

Daly likes the sensuality of cinematography. She hates the fast edit. She gives her actors the freedom of time. Every breath is recorded.

Griffiths, Toni Collette's co-star in Muriel's Wedding all those years ago and one of the linchpins of that wonderful TV series Brothers & Sisters, has become a Hollywood stalwart, a safe pair of shoes in any part that fits. She is not slumming it here in a low budget Dutch/Irish co production. She is in her element, centre stage and holding nothing in reserve. As for Keoghan, he conveys sensitivity and brutality in the blink of a drink. He's a dangerous force and already an actor to watch.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2016
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After Margaret, a divorcée living in Dublin, loses her teenage son, she develops an unorthodox relationship with Joe, a homeless youth.
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Director: Rebecca Daly

Writer: Rebecca Daly, Glenn Montgomery

Starring: Rachel Griffiths, Michael McElhatton, Barry Keoghan, Nika McGuigan, Johnny Ward, Joanne Crawford, Aoife King, Annabell Rickerby, Annette Tierney, Rachel O'Byrne

Year: 2016

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: Ireland, Netherlands, Luxembourg

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