|as a powerful drama about loyalty versus justice, that's hampered by a deliberately slow pace and some indiscernible dialogue
|Anna Rose Holmer, Saela Davis
|Emily Watson, Paul Mescal, Aisling Franciosi, Brendan McCormack, Declan Conlon, Marion O'Dwyer, Steve Gunn, Toni O'Rourke
|31st March 2023
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
When her son Brian (Paul Mescal) comes home to Ireland after several years in Australia, a supervisor at the local fishing distribution centre, Aileen (Emily Watson) feels reborn.
But Brian’s unexpected return has caused tensions in the household, because he doesn’t get on with his father Con (Declan Conlon).
Brian starts to settle back into the community and gets a job on a local oyster farm and Aileen is delighted to have her boy back.
But when police turn up unexpectedly and ask her to corroborate Brian’s claim to have stayed at home on a particular night, she instinctively agrees, to protect her son.
It turns out that an ex girlfriend of Brian’s, Sarah (Aisling Franciosi), has accused him of raping her, after they met unexpectedly in a local bar.
The community slowly turns against Aileen as they side with Sarah’s version of events, leaving the family in turmoil.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
There’s a powerful drama buried deep within Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer’s tale of Irish parochial life – but it’s not 100 minutes long.
God’s Creatures is long – and slow – with the atmosphere lifted but the narrative interrupted and delayed by extended landscape shots that contrast the beauty of the surroundings with the banality of everyday life in the fish-sorting warehouse.
The two central performances – the recently reunited mother and son – carry the weight of the story, but so much of what happens is never seen that viewers can’t really make a judgement as to whether or not Brian did what he’s been accused of – it’s all about Aileen’s desire to help her son and her guilt when she prioritises him over justice.
It’s never even really clear what’s alleged to have happened – was it a misunderstanding about consent – was it a violent assault – would knowing what actually happened have made a difference to the way Aileen handled the situation? Probably not – a mother’s instinct trapped her in a cycle of lying to protect him and coming clean later would get herself in trouble.
It’s only Sarah responding to Brian’s outstretched hand by spitting in his face, later in the story, that gives a hint as to what might actually have happened on that fateful night after the pair drank together in the bar.
Almost nothing happens at all in the first half an hour, other than Brian returning unexpectedly from Australia – but this, perhaps, makes the sudden arrival of the police, putting Aileen on the spot, feel all the more shocking. And there is about a fifteen minute section of the film, towards the end, when things come to a head, where the drama is suddenly so concentrated – so powerful – that you feel like you’ve returned from a loo break and entered the wrong screen.
We never really get to know the characters on a fundamental level, with very little discussion about why he left, why he came back, why he didn’t tell anyone he was coming back, what happened on that night, whether he just assumed his mother would lie for him or whether he’d asked her to – or perhaps they did discuss all these things, but the mumbled dialogue in thick Irish accents just made it too hard to catch everything that was said.
The proceedings of justice also seem to be oddly absent in this small town, where everyone knows everyone, where the investigation seems to stop the moment Aileen says she was at home all night with Brian – it’s a small town, but not so small that there was no-one else out on that night.
With not much physically going on, most of the acting takes place on the faces of the protagonists – Watson’s pained decisions are writ large in her expressions – and it makes a change to see something a little darker under the skin of Aftersun and Normal People‘s Mescal.
There’s a powerful tale of loyalty and the need for justice buried in a potentially intriguing longer story about alleged assault in a tight-knit community – that skims over crucial context and stretches itself into an overlong narrative, feeling like it’s more interested in earning art-house stripes than existing in the mainstream.