God’s Creatures

Directed by: Saela Davis & Anna Rose Holmer
Distributed by: A24

Written by Michael Clawson

Starring Emily Watson, Paul Mescal, and Aisling Franciosi, “God’s Creatures” is a dread-soaked drama about a protective parent consumed by their guilty conscience. When her son Brian (Mescal) is accused of rape, his mother Aileen (Watson) is quick to lie and corroborate his defense that he was at home with her on the night the incident supposedly occurred. Rather than confront the possibility that her son did in fact commit an abhorrent crime, Aileen is overcome by motherly instincts – at a young woman’s expense. An overblown climax diminishes it, but “God’s Creatures” is otherwise a compelling, atmospheric study of the limits of maternal love.

Perhaps it’s because Aileen has already lost Brian once that she’s willing to lie on his behalf. The story begins with Brian returning home unannounced after years away from the cloudy fishing village in Ireland where Aileen lives along with her daughter, infant niece, husband, and elderly father-in-law. Aileen is startled by her son’s sudden return – her mouth is agape when he walks into the town pub one night, shifting the mood of what was a somber day on which a fisherman drowned – but she’s too happy about Brian’s homecoming to press him on what he’s been up to and what’s brought him back to Ireland now. She’s also too happy to risk losing Brian again should she tell the truth and allow him to potentially face prison time.

The girl that Aileen throws under the bus is Sarah (Franciosi), a co-worker of Aileen’s at an oyster factory, who Brian dated briefly when he and Sarah were younger. On the night that Sarah says Brian raped her, Aileen and Brian went out together, and Aileen left Brian with Sarah when she saw them strike up a conversation, possibly rekindling the interest they once had in each other. Aileen and Sarah aren’t close friends per se, but when Aileen sits in a courtroom, looks Sarah in the eye, and lies about her son’s whereabouts that night, Sarah is rightfully devastated.

Emily Watson’s performance is effective for how all of Aileen’s escalating inner conflict about her decision is readable on her face, in her eyes, and in how she looks either lovingly or questioningly at her son. It’s Franciosi, however, who really captivates as a girl fiercely retaining her dignity even as she bears the crushing disappointment of injustice and betrayal. Mescal portrays Brian with a credible shadiness, but his character is the least nuanced of the three.

While sensitively drawing the dynamics between their characters, directors Saela Davis & Anna Rose Holmer also capitalize on the expressiveness of the film’s blustery coastal setting. “God’s Creatures” is a gloomy film: the ocean’s murky waters, the sunless skies, and a score that switches between sharp strings and low-pitched drums cultivate a mood that thrums with tension. If only the script was less extreme when Aileen finds the strength to confront Brian, the outcome of which is unconvincing. Still, this movie is a showcase of its cast’s talents, and its maritime backdrop provides a textured sense of place.

“God’s Creatures” Trailer

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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