Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer are a little-known writing and directing partnership based in Brooklyn, New York. But their standing is due a considerable elevation on the strength of God’s Creatures, a film that wields its simple premise with devastating impact.
At the time of writing, a film set in a remote Irish location is attracting a great deal of acclaim for its portrayal of windswept, sea-bitten coasts and the pangs and politics of small-town life. Sadly, as with the old saw about the bus you wait forever for, it seems that you can’t climb aboard both, which means the one more deserving of praise is going to be a tad neglected this awards season. The writer Mark O’Connell has already produced an excellent deep-dive into what he describes as the “put-on” mining of ethnic detail in The Banshees of Inisherin. But such issues are not a problem in God’s Creatures: built around a script by first-time writer Shane Crowley and suffused with a realism and sense-of-place that is as natural and emotionally powerful as it gets.
The returning prodigal son of this tale is Brian O’Hara (Aftersun’s Paul Mescal), who shocks his nearest and dearest by turning up unannounced after several years spent working in Australia. Brian has plans to resurrect his grandfather’s independent oyster farming business, but doing so will involve pitting his wits against the local seafood magnate. It will also involve an equal level of negotiation with the boredom and limited opportunities of a small seaside town. When Brian is arrested in the middle of the night, his mother Aileen (Emily Watson) lies on his behalf almost instinctively, and then must slowly come to terms with the awful implications of that deception.
Mescal and Watson are electric in their portrayal of a dysfunctional, imbalanced mother and son relationship. Without their acting abilities, it’s hard to say if God’s Creatures would be quite so effective, and there is a slight touch of the soap-opera to one plot detail in the film’s conclusion, but the photography is also brilliantly executed. Natural light is used to give the film a grainy sensuality and the choice of camera shots are varied in perfect step to the emotional beats of the story itself.
Films such as this can often get weighed down with cliched localism, or an over-eagerness to ‘do justice’ to the communities they wish to represent, but God’s Creatures has all the hallmarks of a cult classic where the directness of the story-telling cuts through like a blade.
Tom Duggins | @duggins_tom