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MOVIES (GFF 2023): God's Creatures - Review

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God’s Creatures takes us to a windswept fishing village for a combined directorial effort by Anna Rose Holmer and Saela Davis that showcases the sheer range of Paul Mescal; and not just that but how good his agent – or he himself is – at picking films that suit him and carving out his niche in the genre; on the back of Normal People and Aftersun you’d forgive many actors for being swept up on top of the world in Hollywood – but not Mescal; grounded and down to Earth – Brian O’Hara is his character here, and through God’s Creatures , we examine the concept of right and wrong through the eyes of Emily Watson’s Aileen – with a lie being told for him rippling through a small town community.

Anyone who’s ever lived in a small town community will feel the aftereffects of what’s present in God’s Creatures ’ small town politics, the rural nature of work and the harsh bleak remoteness of it all. The atmosphere, from Holmer and Davis, is achingly on point – it’s easy to dismiss this film as a slow burn on the process but I feel it’s a fascinating exploration of guilt and shame. Would you give your own son an alibi? Would you protect your own child from the consequences of their own actions? The moral dilemma bursting at the heart of God’s Creatures is a doom-ridden one of which there can be no easy way out.

It'd be wrong to compare this to The Banshees of Inisherin, but further back, echoes of Breaking the Waves are felt - the singing – it’s all the singing, isn’t it? Emily Watson gives a great bevy of depth here – a worn out mother on the edge of her tether. There’s a hint of edge to it – a community ripped in two when one of its men drowns at sea; and having Watson play such a key part to the fishing community makes you feel the loss at every turn. There’s a metaphor for those who leave and those who stay here like there is in every great Irish film – Mescal’s son turns up out of the blue and the initial cause is there for delight and celebration – an arrival back from seeking fortune in Australia, but there is no such joy to last. He’s cool, confident and charming with enough depth beyond his years – a counterpart to Watson’s world-weary mother. The pair have chemistry that sings, even when they’re at each others’ throats.

Deliberately paced might be another word for “painfully slow” and whilst this film is a psychological thriller; it plays fast and loose in that department. Instead the film feels entirely naturalistic – never rushing, taking its time in more ways than one. The locations capture the seaside community with a naturalistic rugged edge to it – and to label this film as quiet betrays the emotional tear at its centre; its women characters are its biggest strength and it’s also worth mentioning just how good Aisling Franciosi is here; with the three leads maximalising the potential for unease and dread that never truly goes away.

Small village rural communities give God’s Creatures the sense of real depth that it needs to shine and tackle important, weighty subjects with the care and grace that it needs to. In the hands of any other director the result would have been a different, clumsier approach – but the pair of Anna Rose Holmer and Saela Davis are ones to watch, especially if you’re familiar with Holmer’s The Fits – I’ll be keeping an eye out for anything these two do next.

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