This lo-fi British drama stars Steven Brandon as Luke, a man with Down Syndrome forced into a special needs home after the death of his dementia-stricken mother. Once in the home, Luke becomes isolated by the unfamiliar surroundings and loneliness but he soon comes upon a strange discovery. My Feral Heart is by no means the first film to give a focal point to someone with Down Syndrome but that doesn’t mean it’s not an impressive and somewhat enlightening insight. From early on we learn about Luke having a day-to-day life as a carer and a certain degree of independence, providing a somewhat harsher context when his freedom becomes constricted in the more enclosed (albeit well-meaning) care home.
It’s in these early stages where My Feral Heart flourishes in presenting Luke as a character and representing something of a diversion from common associations with people with Down Syndrome (by no doubt aided by being played by an actor who has the condition) and something more of a focus on introducing our players rather than concern with the body of the plot, falling back on some talented cast members (the film itself is associated with the Mushroom Theatre Company, a performing arts organisation specialising in integrating people with disabilities). Where the film falters a little is when it tries to widen its scope with different narrative threads, especially the plot that ultimately becomes the main focus of the film and really comes out of left-field.
Whether or not this film could play to a mass audience is hard to say. I think the filmmakers had a definite intention to not just go for a niche audience and try to appeal as many as they could but in some ways it feels as if the film isn’t what you could term “cinematic”. It’s generally more rough-hewn tone feels more televisual than anything (especially early on) and, in all honesty, when the film focuses more on simply being a drama piece and not conforming to mainstream movie setups, it fares the best as some of the more starkly-presented emotional moments do pack something of a punch whilst the somewhat more polished elements (the use of scoring and rampant editing) do detract a little from the raw honesty of the film’s best moments.
Ultimately, My Feral Heart is a film that thrives in simplicity and falters in complexity. Given that this was made by people working in somewhat unfamiliar territory (a theatre company cast and a director in Jane Gull working on her first feature film) you can attribute a certain lack of confidence or experience but there’s some definite quality in the work as well with a powerful ethos backing it and occasional moments of greatness. It’s a little off the beaten track of mainstream cinema, but those wanting to seek it out will in the end be mostly rewarded.
My Feral Heart is available on DVD and digital download from Monday, November 27th; rated 12. Check out the trailer below.