Star Rating:

God's Creatures

Directors: Saela Davis, Anna Rose Holmer

Actors: Paul Mescal, Emily Watson, Aisling Franciosi

Release Date: Friday 24th March 2023

Genre(s): Drama

Running time: 100 minutes

After returning home from an extended stay in Australia, Brian (Paul Mescal) begins to ingratiate himself with his mother Aileen (Emily Watson) and rekindle a relationship with an old flame, Sarah (Aisling Franciosi). However, when Sarah lodges a police complaint of sexual assault against Brian, Aileen instinctively covers for him and provides an alibi. The decision soon drives a wedge in the close-knit community, and Aileen begins to reckon with her relationship with her son...

There is something sickeningly familiar about the story and the themes in the centre of 'God's Creatures'. So familiar, in fact, that chances are any Irish person watching it would have heard some story along similar lines. All too often in this country, women have been failed either by the state and its institutions, or by their sons, brothers, and husbands. Yet, 'God's Creatures' isn't insensitive to their plight either. The movie opens with a funeral of a drowned fisherman, with the community bound together in grief and aware of the fact that it is the fishermen who keep it afloat. Still and all, the boats have to go out with the knowledge that their death is just as likely.

'God's Creatures' moves at a slow, unyielding pace and restrains itself against sudden flurries of action or plot movement. This gives it a sense of tension and dread, as we slowly realise just how far Emily Watson's character will go in order to protect her bastard of a son, played with dark fire by Paul Mescal.

Watson leads from the front in 'God's Creatures', setting the bar for the rest of the cast to reach. Her steely gaze and solid, impassive face betray endless emotions - all of them felt and realised, yet buried beneath years of hurt and anguish. Mescal gives a deeply nuanced performance. At first, we see shades of what's made him such a heart-throb - all boyish charms and smiles - but soon the sheen fades and we see him for what he truly is. 'God's Creatures' features women wronged by men at every turn, but it is Aisling Franciosi's character who is explicitly so. Compared with something like 'The Nightingale', her performance is much more subtle but still as impactful. She haunts the processing factory and the town in the aftermath like a ghost, her wide eyes fading over in the torment she's experienced from her sexual assault.

Directors Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer capture the dark and gothic landscape of the sea and the town surrounding it, not giving themselves over to obvious tropes and stereotypes but capturing the tone and atmosphere of these places that are so specific and recognisable to Irish audiences. Likewise, Shane Crowley's script is equally recognisable - disgracefully so - and is made up of meaty drama and thoughtful examinations. Sadly, 'God's Creatures' falters in its ending, closing out a dark and complex story with something that comes off just as unconvincing.

It's a shame as Watson and Mescal breathe life and authenticity into their performances, both of them able to command the screen with intensity and conviction. 'God's Creatures' isn't an easy watch, and it's disturbing and unsettling to such a point that it doesn't make for repeat viewings. You come away from it weather-beaten, storm-swept, but it's the two lead performances that stay with you long after.