Mammal behaviour

Still time to catch this in cinemas. Not a cheery ride but certainly an arresting one. Revieworeeno below. 

***

Mammal
Cert: 16

WHEN Irish TV or cinema has ever needed a snake-eyed rascal to kill cats (Love/Hate) or generally cool the mood (’71, the recent Traders), they call on the services of Dubliner Barry Keoghan. The 23-year-old is here finally given the chance to bring his impish presence to a lead role, a place many have been saying he increasingly belongs.

Rebecca Daly’s follow-up to 2011’s psychological chiller The Other Side of Sleep is an unhappy saga whose despondent fugue recalls the gritty gloom of Gerard Barrett. And like Toni Collette in Barrett’s Glassland (2014), a powerhouse of Australian acting (Rachel Griffiths) admirably takes a punt on this relatively unknown Irish director.

Griffiths plays Margaret, a secondhand-shop owner. She comes across an injured youth (Keoghan) passed out in the alleyway behind her store and ends up taking him in as a lodger. Her own situation is teased out through subtle allusions to a missing son and run-ins with the father (Game of Thrones’ Michael McElhatton). The arrangement with this slightly wild-eyed guest seems unfeasible but she persists. An uncomfortable bond begins to congeal between the two that is neither one thing nor the other.

Daly’s use of symbolism – underwater shots, breath-holding, maternal imagery – sets out motives and subtexts with potency in places while she and cinematographer Lennart Verstegen locate an arresting palette in suburban Dublin.

And what of the chemistry between Keoghan and Griffiths? Well, the two leads interlock seamlessly and make for a uniquely unnerving “odd couple” in a film that is all the more spellbinding for the distance it keeps from us.

4/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

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Published by

Hilary A White

Dublin-based arts journalist and reviewer, specialising in film, books, music and human-interest stories. Sunday Independent / Irish Independent / State.ie / RTE Radio 1 / Today FM

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