Review: God’s Creatures

Directed by Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer, written by Shane Crowley, based on a story by Crowley and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly. 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 apart their family and close-knit community in this tense, sweepingly emotional epic. Starring: Emily Watson, Paul Mescal, Aisling Franciosi, Declan Conlon, Marion O’Dwyer, Toni O’Rourke, Brendan McCormack and Isabelle Connolly.

When God’s Creatures opens with its incredibly atmospheric aesthetic, with deep natural colouring and picturesque landscapes, it sets up a huge helping of potential. One that’s furthered by the genuine ease with which it builds a satisfying amount of tension in such a short time. As well as being topped by a wonderfully strings heavy score which helps to bring out its emotional side even further. Then filling that visual with actors like Paul Mescal and Emily Watson brings everything together even more, although it does seem unusual to not cast an Irish actress alongside Mescal, given the strong cultural roots of the story.

Mescal gives a terrific performances, filled with emotion and intensity, he traverses a more than murky ethical ground within a classically patriarchal community. Watson goes down a road paved with conflict and betrayal, but there are a few moments, particularly the simple everyday scenes where she feels somewhat ill at ease, it’s a solid but not stellar performance. The unexpected element here is Aisling Franciosi, she really brings this story together and adds entirely new layers and complexities. While that is a brilliant thing, it’s also problematic because it slowly makes you question if this story and its themes, wouldn’t be better served by focusing on Franciosi’s Sarah.

Therein lies the key issue with God’s Creatures, once it passes its first half, it feels as though the focus is never quite in the right place. It moves within an overly slow and steady pacing, so when it does try to hit these big dramatic notes later on, they mostly fall flat. There is a good use of foreshadowing and plenty of worthwhile elements to the plot but they draw themselves out so far that the audience will always know what’s coming before it happens. At a certain point it simply runs out of steam and ultimately goes for a tone that’s out of its reach. A factor not helped by the score seemingly going off book toward the end and overwhelming the scenes.

God’s Creatures is a decent family drama but sadly, it’s trying to be something more complex and misses the mark. Paul Mescal adds another feather to his cap in proving how great of a presence he can bring and the depth he can explore but Aisling Franciosi is the real highlight here. It’s hard not to feel like the film would have been improved if she’d been given a bigger chunk of screen time and adjusted the film’s focus to a more significant, intimate representation of its themes.

Verdict: ✯✯✯ | 6/10

Reviewed as part of Glasgow Film Festival 2023

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