Now Reading
God’s Creatures – Glasgow Film Festival 2023 Review

God’s Creatures – Glasgow Film Festival 2023 Review

God’s Creatures begins with the discovery of a body. Another son of the Irish fishing village where the film is based has been accidentally drowned at sea; although the citizens grieve with his mother, no-one is particularly surprised. Death is a frequent visitor to this hardscrabble place.

It’s at the wake for this lost son that another returns – Brian (Paul Mescal), who had self-exiled to Australia for a number of years with only sporadic communications to his family, shows up amongst the mourners, knocking his adoring mother Aileen (Emily Watson) for six. He’s reluctant to talk about what he’s been doing with himself for so long, just that he’s eager to start his life afresh back home and reignite the floundering family oyster business. Aileen commits herself to doing everything possible to help him out – even stealing equipment from her place of work.

But when Brian is charged with a much more serious crime – the rape of a childhood friend, Sarah (Aisling Franciosi) – Aileen’s unswerving loyalty faces a devastating test.

Perhaps the biggest problem with God’s Creatures is that the accusation, the inciting incident that sets the narrative alight, doesn’t happen until halfway through the movie; before then, co-directors Anna Rose Holmer and Saela Davis have been almost exclusively concerned with establishing an atmosphere. That in itself didn’t have to be a bad thing, but the atmosphere they weave is so generic, heavy with an overreliance on slow zooms and synth-scored foreboding. We’ve been to these isolated villages before, felt the booze-hot breath of the men who abound on our cheeks, there’s no need to spend so long setting such a familiar scene at the expense of setting the narrative in motion.

Once we finally get stuck into that narrative however, the film improves greatly, weaving a thick web of tension (primarily through a host of intense close-ups on Emily Watson’s tortured eyes) as to how far Aileen is willing to go against everything she stands for in order to support her undeserving son. As Sarah is made ever more miserable, pushed as she is from village life by the patriarchal power structure, Aileen’s support of her son curdles into a sick, stubborn shame. In closely tracking her inner torment, God’s Creatures ably demonstrates how difficult it can be for women to support other women when the whole system is designed by and for men.

Whilst this is Watson’s movie, and she leads it with compelling, watchful conviction, Mescal’s performance is the most exciting here. From Normal People to Aftersun, he’s made his name as an exquisite purveyor of gently tortured masculinity – his most famous characters thus far have been kind men who turn their pain inward rather than letting it out in a blaze of machismo. In God’s Creatures, a sly malevolence creeps into Mescal’s ostensibly warm demeanour; his typical diffidence is made to seem studied, weaponised, rather than authentic. It becomes clear that the charm he showered upon Aileen upon their reunion was little but a manipulative act, and her realisation of this is almost as painful as her realisation of his crime.

See Also

Though it suffers from pacing issues, and retreads cinematic ground we’ve trodden far too frequently before, the performances of Mescal and Watson make God’s Creatures worth your patience.


Glasgow Film Festival runs from 1-12 March 2023

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.