The dynamics within many families can be somewhat unorthodox. Beyond the four walls of a cosy home life which many strive to portray, there is an unhealthily high tolerance level for appalling behaviour from those we nurture and love.
Too much pride perhaps, driven by one’s insecurities and modesty of the life led? Terrified of losing the mere scraps you deem priceless, or the unflinching support of fellow hardworking people who are all too familiar with your specific struggle? Within such a cliquey community, is there room to question the mentality and conditioning of our environment?
These questions violently wash up on the shore of Emily Watson’s Irish town in this haunting tale from directorial duo Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer. As the waves crash into its opening frames, there is a mournful atmosphere gripping the inhabitants, extending beyond the literal funeral attended by Aileen (Watson) of a dear friend’s son. The next death may just be Aileen’s moral values, as her strapping boy Brian (Paul Mescal) strolls back into her life after a stint in Australia.
Light on the details of his trip but heavy on the affection upon his return, you immediately suspect Brian is overcompensating for past failures, trying to put a positive yet decidedly dodgy spin on the fishing profession he long ridiculed. Whilst Aileen is extremely positive in her responses to him, his agitated father, Con (Declan Conlon), and headstrong sister, Erin (Toni O’Rourke), show greater apprehension. Yet the key misfire of his past lies in his previous interactions with Aisling Franciosi’s Sarah, where a heavy dose of heartbreak may have been dished out. Sarah is now a warmly welcomed member of Aileen’s workforce in the local fish processing factory. However, the blood soon runs cold when a sexual assault charge is issued to Brian, leaving these women in an abrupt tidal wave of emotions.
“Rightfully mirroring the palpable horror of its subject matter, Davis and Holmer – assisted by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurrian’s exemplary score – properly lean into that genre to convey the dread felt by Aileen and Sarah throughout the film.”
Rightfully mirroring the palpable horror of its subject matter, Davis and Holmer – assisted by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurrian’s exemplary score – properly lean into that genre to convey the dread felt by Aileen and Sarah throughout the film. The sharp intakes of breath fused with the frenzied beat of drums anchoring a workplace sequence, with an oblivious Aileen shaken by a fainting Sarah, encapsulates the unease of the latter’s traumatic state of mind.
“The emphasis on the familial breakdown is frustratingly richer than the victim’s character arc here. Still, Aisling Franciosi’s transition from angelic singer to simmering rage is nonetheless explosive. She finds her confidence amidst the pain to call out the complicity of those upholding such harmful ‘normalcy’.”
The favouring of piercing visual language over swathes of dialogue is befitting of a wretched culture that leaves women silent and secluded. The colours of the clothes worn by these men signify the dingy colours of the moral system within which they operate. Their splattering of brown and beige highlights the murky nature, occasionally dialled up to an alarming red matching the lights of the pubs they frequent and the ‘mist’ that descends. The high-angle camerawork bearing down on Aileen’s interactions with her factory co-workers makes them feel like the fish they handle off the conveyor belt, almost waiting to be gutted and thrown away. At the same time, the men represent the great emptiness of the disposed oyster shells, whose collective sense of what is right has left them lost at sea.
A storm rages inside Aileen, visually portrayed by a steely, withdrawn expression as the rain beats her face, transfixed by Sarah’s singing. The subtle behavioural changes of Emily Watson’s mother figure, growing sceptical of her stance in protecting her son, are quietly devastating. Paul Mescal delivers another finely-tuned performance as Brian, soon making a mockery of those heartening first impressions. The emphasis on the familial breakdown is frustratingly richer than the victim’s character arc here. Still, Aisling Franciosi’s transition from angelic singer to simmering rage is nonetheless explosive. She finds her confidence amidst the pain to call out the complicity of those upholding such harmful ‘normalcy’.
The slow-burning gothic atmosphere may alienate some, but GOD’S CREATURES is a supremely disquieting and gripping drama, handling its themes with great dexterity.