When Brian (Paul Mescal) returns home unannounced to a small fishing village in Ireland after living in Australia for an unspecified number of years, everything seems to be wonderful. His mother, Aileen (Emily Watson), is delighted to be reunited with her son, meanwhile, he gets a job harvesting oysters. And this is how things are for the first part of co-directors Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer’s God’s Creatures (the pair’s second feature). However, when Brian is accused of sexually assaulting local woman Sarah (The Nightingale’s Aisling Franciosi) his mother is forced to choose between protecting her child and her own morals – as well as her reputation within the small community.
While the rugged, windswept coastline and cosy pub give this film a distinctive Irish flavour, this town could be anywhere in the world: the community acts as a microcosm of traditional society. The men go out fishing during the day and drink during the night, while the women all work together in a fish processing factory and treat the gents to a song as they drink. As the drama intensifies, the filmmakers use this setting to explore the harmful aspects of masculinity whilst pointing towards the lack of agency women can be subjected to in circumstances like these. Sarah is the one who’s assaulted, but her character plays a surprisingly minor role in the ensuing drama – a point that surely wasn’t lost on the filmmakers.
Underpinning this insightful exploration is a tour de force of a family drama, driven by astounding performances, at the centre of which is Watson as the conflicted mother. Watson shines in every scene, and viewers will empathise with her character’s dilemma, which consequently intensifies the ensuing drama. Likewise, Mescal’s easygoing charm makes Brian endearing enough that audiences can be unsure about his guilt, though unanswered questions about his time away from home undoubtedly raise suspicions about his character. This muddy area of ambiguity is where the filmmakers excel in creating their reflection of society. And in this community, the questions raised are worth more than any definitive resolution could provide.
The slow-burn pacing of this drama may test the patience of some, as the filmmakers gently ease into the setting before the status quo is shattered. But the moment the ball gets rolling, God’s Creatures evolves into a thoughtful allegory of society, as well as a blistering family drama.
God’s Creatures is released in select cinemas on 31st March 2023.
Watch a trailer for God’s Creatures here: