Directed by Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer.
With Emily Watson, Paul Mescal, Aisling Franciosi, Declan Conlon, Marion O’Dwyer, Toni O’Rourke, Brendan McCormack, John Burke, Steve Gunn, Lalor Roddy, Seán T. Ó Meallaigh, Enda Oates and Isabelle Connolly.
In a windswept fishing village, a mother is torn between protecting her beloved son and her sense of right and wrong. A lie she tells for him tears their family and tight-knit community apart.
Tracking shots, body language and facial expressions are constructed for all their value in God’s Creatures (directed by Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer, working from Shane Crowley based on a story he devised with Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly). An inner conflict rushes characters as powerful as the perilous waves of the sea and the gusts of wind in this tight-knit, undisclosed Irish fishing village.
In particular, Emily Watson’s Aileen O’Hara (a piercing measured performance based on nuance and mounting psychological pressure) is so thrilled to have her favorite offspring back in town after years of working in Australia, Brian de Paul Mescal, so much so that she will lie and turn her mind into a pretzel to cover up a serious accusation made by one of her colleagues at the seafood factory, Sarah (Aisling Franciosi, as emotionally powerful as ever, having blown viewers away in the stunning but traumatically difficult The Nightingale).
No one else seems thrilled that Brian is back, and there are a lot of questions about why he left for Australia. In Aileen’s inability to see the forest from the trees, she gives Brian little prompting about her emergence after years of zero communication. She looks like a clingy puppy who will tell her son anything he wants to hear and do anything to get him back, even if she compromises his morals and the motherly respect she has with her co-workers. Other characters point this out, such as Brian’s sister Erin (Toni O’Rourke), a new mother who compares their relationship to breastfeeding her baby; it might as well be attached to mom’s nipple (an apt remark given how awkwardly close they seem).
Brian sets out to rebuild the family oyster business, much to the chagrin of his father Con (Declan Conlon), another immediate family member who shows nothing but disdain. The only area where Brian commands some respect is in pubs, places that allow his misogynistic behavior. Even during moments playfully entertaining his grandfather with a stroke, his charm feels like an act and there’s a deeply troubled personality inside (this duality is plagued with excellent restraint by Paul Mescal). It could also be argued that it’s a flaw how obvious it is that Brian is guilty, leaving little mystery, but that’s not the point here at all’ God’s Creatures is all about rich characterization.
There is also a case to be made that God’s Creatures is a bit too limited. The picturesque photography and long, hypnotic shots pushed even further into the heads of these characters by cinematographer Chayse Irvin (spaces that quicken in discomfort the longer the filmmakers linger) are exquisite and foreshadow the fate. However, the script takes its time to familiarize viewers with the location and characters, and there’s a noticeable lack of drama until the accusation is revealed.
It’s not necessarily a crippling problem to have, because once Aileen doubles down on proclaiming her son’s innocence and alienates the rest of his family and friends, God’s Creatures morphs into a suspenseful and poignant story about the boundless depths of a mother’s love with the wonder of whether or not she will come to her senses or if the patriarchy and peculiar way of life of this village of fishermen will prevail.
The end to God’s Creatures is both frustrating and lyrically beautiful. There are reservations about how one aspect is wrapped up, but the final follow-up shot here is hugely moving, further cementing Aisling Franciosi as a formidable talent deserving of fame (which turns into an Irish banger end credits song ).
To be fair, the set is outstanding; there are several minutes of scenes at the end of watching only conflicted faces moving through spaces large and small, their thoughts weighing down on them like an anchor. It is an apt testimony to the complexity of God’s creatures.
Scintillating Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the editor of Flickering Myth Reviews. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com