God’s Creatures – Glasgow Film Festival 2023 – Film Review

We are all God’s Creatures, essentially, is a phrase uttered within the film of the same title. This moody, atmospheric feature with an immediate connection to the lure of the sea within a coastal setting is a slow burn. The brooding setting feeds into the overall tone as Brian, an estranged family member, played by a captivating Paul Mescal, disrupts the peaceful community dynamics when he is accused of a crime. The film examines the delicate thread of the mother-son bond, a mother’s instinct and misguided loyalty concerning such crime.

Set within a fishing village in Donegal, West Ireland, Aileen (Emily Watson) works on the production line of a fish processing factory. The repetitive monotony of the factory-based tasks reflects the greyness of the film’s colour palette with a sharp contrast to the beautiful cinematography of the Irish village’s landscape. God’s Creatures also presents that insightful, slice of life tale, given that all of the workers seem to visit the same village pub, after work, where singing occurs and it’s an insular community. Despite the sombre nature of the film, it is the pub’s glowing embers that exude a warmth and highlight the characters’ joy within its surroundings.

It is therefore striking to witness the immediate furore in the pub created by Brian’s return from Australia. Effective camera angles display the commotion amongst the regulars before the source of the disruption is even revealed, and directors Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer demonstrate their skill in knowing how to captivate. Brian is charming, and so the ladies and men equally gravitate towards him. It is this charm that seems to work in his favour, too, when accusations are directed against him.

Paul Mescal in God's Creatures
Paul Mescal in God’s Creatures

Davis and Holmer also present the damaging impact of Aileen’s unwavering support for Brian when she is required to make a moral choice that threatens both her familial relationships and her standing within the community. The chemistry between Mescal and Watson is compelling to watch within this mother-son dynamic as their close connection isolates others; it is also fascinating observing Mescal in a role with sinister undertones.

God’s Creatures is a powerful film examining that moral compass and the role of women within this community. The directors provide a non judgemental, distanced perspective with added meaning behind silent, lingering glances, which are at times accusative, with multi-faceted themes. But perhaps needed to be a tad more dramatic in its delivery. Thus, an underlying sense of unease permeates God’s Creatures as it questions complicity amongst the villagers and the degree to which we may turn a blind eye.

God’s Creatures is an unsettling watch and evokes that inward reflection, notably in its examination of societal cover-ups and the damaging effect of remaining silent. However, the film’s reliance on silence as a tool may mean that its message may seem underwhelming despite highlighting negative consequences to maintaining some small community practices. Still, God’s Creatures raises that moral dilemma effectively within its sombre environment. Whilst the film may have a heavy, important subject matter to create a talking point, its understated approach may underwhelm audiences and undermine its powerful impact.

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