This hardly counts as a spoiler, but for those approaching Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer’s fascinating Irish melodrama with no prior knowledge there will be a low-key surprise when they first observe the characters paying for pints with the Irish pounds that the euro swept away in 2002. It is a millennial film? Well, probably, but, in truth, God’s Creatures is set outside time. This could be the rural Spain of Federico García Lorca. It could be the Greece of Euripides. The passions are that universal.
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For all that, Shane Crowley’s screenplay and Chayse Irvin’s cinematography have a sure grasp of place. We are in a northwestern Irish fishing port. Aileen O’Hara (Emily Watson) works at the local processing plant with an array of similarly wind-blasted women. The town is in mourning for a young man who has drowned at sea. At the funeral, Aileen’s estranged son, Brian (Paul Mescal), turns up after a time spent in Australia to spread mystery and unease about the community. A robust matriarch of the old school, Aileen brings Brian back into the family and becomes party to his dodgy schemes to get back into the oyster business.
The film initially keeps Brian’s character ambiguous. He is never exactly warm, but we can, at least at first, believe he is guilty of nothing more serious than taciturnity. But, when a serious accusation is made against him, Aileen’s unhesitant willingness to lie on his behalf tips us off that she suspects he is a dangerous piece of work. Mothers always know.
God’s Creatures doesn’t quite manage its daring blend of maritime realism and Greek catastrophe
The acting and atmosphere are strong throughout. Mescal allows just enough sly charm to slip through the cracks of his stony exoskeleton, and Watson – once again proving her adeptness with an Irish accent – early on conveys the impression that, though she may pass grim judgment on her son, nobody else in the community will be allowed any such luxury. Would they want to? As the accusations grow, the locals close protective ranks. Aisling Franciosi, so strong in Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, is heartbreaking as the soul upon whom the evil most cruelly plays.
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God’s Creatures doesn’t quite manage its daring blend of maritime realism and Greek catastrophe. The huge final gesture feels just a little too heightened for this otherwise everyday world. The effort was, however, worth making. A bitter, unforgiving entertainment.
God’s Creatures is released on Friday, March 24th