An atmosphere of brooding bitterness hangs over God’s Creatures. Billowing black clouds mirror the bleak events unfolding in the unnamed Irish coastal village beneath them. Family traumas and terrible lies permeate co-directors Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer’s drama, which is given a bedrock of emotional authenticity by screenwriter Shane Crowley and is exceptionally acted.
Aileen O’Hara (Emily Watson) works at a fish processing factory. She's supervising a production line when her friend Mary’s son is pulled dead from the water, apparently having been caught out by a vicious spring tide while working on an oyster farm. At the wake, Aileen’s son, Brian (Paul Mescal), makes a surprise return after three years out of contact, claiming to have been in Australia. Brian evidently had a strained relationship with his father Con (Declan Conlon). Though unexplained, it’s this that might have provoked Brian’s long absence.
Then, one night after drinking with his mother, Brian meets old flame Sarah (Aisling Franciosi) in the local pub. We don’t see what happens next, but Brian is soon charged with rape. Crucially, when questioned by the Garda, Aileen provides a false alibi for her son – an incident that defines the film. It should provide a jolt of drama and energy, but it never quite materialises, leaving the story to trudge gloomy towards an upsetting conclusion.
Emily Watson and Paul Mescal are exceptional as the central mother and son pairing
Watson’s superb portrayal of a damaged woman in a horrible situation will immediately recall her breakthrough turn in Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves, even if this film’s sickeningly tense tone and subject matter is more akin to Kenneth Lonergan’s tragic masterpiece Manchester By the Sea. Mescal, meanwhile, having showcased his charisma in TV smash Normal People, puts in a subtle, clever performance. Brian is one of those men who is affable and charismatic in the pub, but a vicious scumbag behind closed doors.
Chayse Irvin’s assured cinematography coupled with an ominous score from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans help maintain the almost palpable dread. It’s just a slight shame that God’s Creatures is less than the sum of its parts.
God’s Creatures premiered at Cannes