God's Creatures


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

God's Creatures
"There’s a sense that everyone is struggling to breathe under pressures which nobody is willing to address directly."

Why did Brian (Paul Mescal) go away? We never really find out, but it’s something which puzzles many of the people in the village, in one of those corners of Ireland where people are born, marry, raise children and die generation after generation with a reassuring sense of continuity. When he asks his former schoolmate Sarah (Aisling Franciosi) how come she’s still there, she’s surprised by the question. She has everything that she wants, she explains. His mother, Aileen (Emily Watson), seems to feel the same way, at least now that he’s home from Australia. She wraps her arms around him, holding on tight. What wouldn’t she do to keep him there?

Before he left, Brian used to work the oyster beds with Paddy and Connor. He soon gets to work seeding new ropes, hoping to have his own harvest, standing out in the cold grey waves in his waterproofs. Aileen and Sarah work in the factory, like most of the local women, cleaning and preparing what the men bring in. Anyone who’s done such work will know how grim it is, how it destroys the hands; but nobody complains. There’s a sense of warmth and contentment between them, a strong community spirit. When something goes wrong with the oyster harvest it’s like a black fungus seeding itself in the heart of that community, precipitating rot from the inside.

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Where Brian’s return could be a source of joy all round, Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ pulsing, drum-heavy score invokes a dark presentiment. Throat singing speaks to the rhythm of the women’s labour and to the threat posed by the fungus. There’s a sense that everyone is struggling to breathe under pressures which nobody is willing to address directly. Every now and again, in passing, we see a local man sneer at a woman or hit her. There’s a familiarity to this violence which everybody quietly accepts. What Brian does, however, might have more serious consequences, and Aileen, recognising this, doesn’t hesitate to provide an alibi. What sort of rot will take root in her when she finds herself caught between her love for her boy and her own conscience?

Events soon find their own momentum, making it hard to go back. Aileen tries at first to keep her distance, to avoid having to face the consequences of her choice, but the small size of the community makes that impossible. It’s not that her own situation is made unbearable, but that she’s horrified by what she sees happen to Brian’s accuser. Despite the lie, the two of them find themselves in similar territory, both abruptly made aware of the ugly side of the people amongst whom they have lived all their lives, and of how fragile the bonds of that community really are, especially for women. Official interventions come and go but it is ultimately this experience, and how they respond to it, which defines the film.

Watson is superb as always in an interesting role whose status undergoes a last minute shift as Aileen comes to recognise her relative lack of importance and another character comes to the fore. There’s an impressive sleight of hand at work here, informed by awareness of the intimate connection between understanding and power. How the two use their power is very different. Are we, as suggested, all God’s creatures in the dark, or might there be light to be found just beyond the horizon?

God’s Creatures screened as part of the 2023 Glasgow Film Festival.

Reviewed on: 02 Mar 2023
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In a windswept fishing village, a mother is torn between protecting her beloved son and her own sense of right and wrong. A lie she tells for him rips their family and close-knit community apart.
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Director: Saela Davis, Anna Rose Holmer

Writer: Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly, Shane Crowley

Starring: Emily Watson, Paul Mescal, Aisling Franciosi. Declan Conlan, Marion O'Dwyer

Year: 2022

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Ireland, UK, US


Glasgow 2023

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