God’s Creatures premiered at the Director’s Fortnight of the last Cannes Film Festival. The critics were all positive about the two lead performances by Emily Watson and Paul Mescal, as a mother and her loved prodigal son. The moves along slowly and in a dark manner that leads you to believe that something bad or irreparable is about to happen or already has. The smell of death emanates from every word of dialogue and every scene.
In this small, rural Irish fishing village on the coast of that country, not much really happens. To say that it is sleepy would be an understatement. Life revolves around family, friends and fishing. Aileen O’Hara (Emily Watson – Gosford Park, Breaking the Waves) works at the fish plant; she has a supervisor-type job. Life goes along slowly until the return of her son Brian (Paul Mescal – The Lost Daughter, Aftersun) from Australia. The love between mother and son is quite evident. The two step right back into their relationship like several years apart never happened. The father (Declan Conlon – from television’s The Tudors) and son relationship is not quite as simple.
Soon, though, even the mother and son bond is tested. It becomes apparent that something happened between Brian and new mother Erin O’Sullivan (Toni O’Rourke – Calm with Horses).Something bad. Despite the talk and what she feels in her gut, Aileen does everything in order to protect her son. Following her lead, the rest of the village also stands by Brian.
There is not a tremendous amount of story going on here. Co-directors Saela Davis (first film) and Anna Rose Homer’s (The Fits) film could have turned out to be a much less enjoyable product if not for Watson and Mescal. They bring a depth and nuance to the characters they play that add plenty to the goings on. Especially Emily Watson. You can see the struggle she is undergoing between her love for her son and what she knows to be right. English actress Watson has had a decades-long career with nary a bad performance among the many films she has starred in. Actually, she does not make a ton of films. Every time you see her in a film it reminds you how talented she is and renews your wish that she would make more films or ones that get more widely seen. Paul Mescal is an Irish actor who I was not familiar with. He demonstrates that he is fully capable of bringing to life a character with multiple layers.
Speaking of layers, the film is filled with them. Quietly filled with them. There is nothing showy about God’s Creatures. But it is as complex as humans are. There is a gloominess that hangs over everything despite the bright music. The residents of the town seem to be close and yet as the film goes on we see that there is a chasm between them. Things are just alluded to here in the screenplay written by Shane Crowley based on a story by Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly, who has produced such films as Ammonite and Lady Macbeth.