Barry Keoghan and Rachel Griffiths are impressive in this bleak Irish movie about an unlikely romance, but the story ebbs away to an unsatisfactory finale

Notorious Love/Hate cat killer Barry Keoghan comes face to face with a whole litter of kittens in this tale of an unlikely relationship between a deprived young man from inner city Dublin and a world weary woman from suburbia.

It's a mere script coincidence but it raises one of the few wry smiles in this bleak film from Joyriders and The Other Side of Sleep director Rebecca Daly. Mammal delivers a fresh take on the idea of nature versus nurture but often ends up shrill despite the glacial pace and crushing ennui of the tone.

Oscar nominated Rachel Griffiths plays Margaret, a taciturn Australian woman living out a life of almost comforting routine in a Dublin suburb. Her days are spent working in a local charity shop and her only joy seems to be restorative visits to the neighbourhood swimming baths, where she sits at the bottom of the pool in contemplation for long minutes as her days trickle by.

It is an internalised life for sure and some great sorrow hangs over Margaret’s every expression and mood. When her former husband Matt (Michael McElhatton) calls to tell her that their teenage son, whom she abandoned as a young mother, has gone missing, Margaret is jolted from her torpor but even then her reaction is one of seeming apathy and resignation.

Then she discovers Joe (Keoghan), a feral young man nursing a stab wound in the alleyway behind her shop and Mammal drifts into a bittersweet meditation on motherhood, grief, and what happens when lives of quiet desperation collide with the ultraviolence of Dublin gang culture.

Keoghan and Griffiths are impressive as the surrogate mother and son who become drawn to each other and the chemistry between them is believable - she’s making up for her guilt over her own neglected child and he’s seeking security amid his nights of casual thuggery and drug use - even if their blossoming romance is not.

However, Mammal can be a frustrating watch. The story is ponderous, the scenes of violence that shatter the downbeat mood are largely unconvincing, and the film's detached questioning of human behaviour fails to engage emotionally as the film wanders to an unsatisfactory end. You may find yourself more concerned about the fate of that litter of kittens.

Alan Corr