Director: Rebecca Daly
Cast: Rachel Griffiths, Barry Keoghan and Michael McElhatton
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: April 1st
While typically used in the context of drinking culture, the observation that Koreans are the Irish of the Far East may now extend to contemporary storytelling too, thanks to Rebecca Daly’s second feature length film, Mammal. Her follow-up to 2011 The Other Side of Sleep, this perverse tale of love shows significant parallels between her own idea of sexual relations, and those espoused by the likes of controversial auteur Kim Ki-duk, and the persecuted author Jang Jung-il. In her depictions of sexual behaviour; its innocence, aggression and fetishes, or her scope on urban isolation and humanity’s evolution from primal to information hungry beings, she is indeed comparable to these modern Korean artists, and so, she has contributed to Irish cinema, a new and important facet, which is seldom touched.
Mammal charts the complicated relationship between Margaret (Rachel Griffiths), a domestic abuse survivor who runs a Charity shop, and Joe (Barry Keoghan), a confused loner, who finds himself homeless as his teenage years are ending. Both societal outsiders, stimulated by differing methods of asphyxiation, their first chance encounter comes at a time of great suffering. Joe, only recently put out of a home, has been assaulted, while Margaret has just learned that the son of her violent ex-husband, Matt, is missing.
Offering him a bedroom, the pair’s initial relationship is akin to that of a son and his mother, the pair essentially acting out these roles to conceal their isolated selves. Yet, the attempts to behave in either charitable, or benevolent manners are limited, because their true happiness lies in objectifying people, and since it is mutual, the harm is, at least for a short while, purely physical. Simple, but with a stunning deal of emotional complexity, as the two get to know each other better, they subtly shake off the facades they erect in society, resorting instead to a primal order of base behaviour and revelling in their being outsiders.
Cinematically captured to both transcend reality and simultaneously strip humanity back to its most animalistic tendencies, by way of fornication and nihilistic gratification, Mammal, as stated earlier is highly reminiscent of Kim Ki-duk’s unsettling canon. Most notably, Daly’s work almost serves as an amalgamation of his equally primitive debut Crocodile, and later films, Pieta and Moebius, which are stylized explorations of the Oedipal complex.
Highly provocative, yet unnervingly attractive, Mammal is difficult to forget, as it draws attention to those forms of behaviour people hope to keep concealed. It might not be pleasurable to be reminded of the fact that we are animals, whose only separation from the wild are the fact that we learned to walk on our hind legs and recognise that we feel emotion, but at least in our being conscious of this fact, we can advance a little more. Strange though, you would think with increased enlightenment there might come a euphoric rush, or a tinge of triumph at the least, not the sense of being coated in a thick muck. All the same, it’s the sign of a good film, which is to say, it excels by knocking us down a little bit.