Just before the UK premiere of God’s Creatures, star Emily Watson took to the stage and told a packed-out theatre in Glasgow that, “The film needs to have a conversation after it”.
This is not an exaggeration. It is a story that feels well-trodden in the aftermath of the #METOO movement, a mother protecting her son from a rape charge. And yet it is fresh in its perspective. Offering a tale that would feel at home in a Greek tragedy, as well as the morning papers.
Starring Paul Mescal as a son returning to his small Irish village after many years abroad, and Watson as his doting mother. The two Oscar nominees have perfected the parable of the prodigal son in their performances. They give the relationship a darkness that was surely left out of the bible story.
In what may be his first unlikable character to date, Mescal adds yet another memorable role to his belt. He is unrecognisable as Brian, the village golden boy, hinting at a complex life beyond the stretch of the screen.
Likewise, Watson is magnificent as a mother forced to measure her love of her son against her morality. She proves that less is more, somehow portraying a deep conflict without batting an eyelash.
“God’s Creatures, suggests the atrocities that take place under an all-knowing eye.”
But the highest praise must be reserved for Aisling Franciosi as Sarah, a young woman who accuses Brian of sexual assault. Franciosi’s sensitive performance demonstrates the strength rape victims contain, and the explosive anger that threatens to erupt at any moment. She also gives some beautiful musical performances, colouring moments of lightness and reminding us what she has lost when tensions run high.
Its writers Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly and Shane Crowley give the script a distinctly Irish tonality. Constantly evoking the importance of wakes, music, and the pub in Irish daily life. Yet, they never gloss over the more uncomfortable aspects of the culture left out of tourism board ads.
Speaking at the UK Premiere Crowley talked about wanting to depict the culture which allows sexual assault to happen. He does this expertly, not embroiling the audience into the theatrics of a high-profile rape case, but exposing the jokes made in the aftermath by those that help to facilitate the abuse.
“Their film is soaked in horror imagery…All of it calls to mind the terror of being infamous when everybody knows where you live.”
The power of the catholic church is imbued in almost every scene, with effigies of Christ watching on as parents mourn children and rape trials are carried out. Even the name, God’s Creatures, suggests the atrocities that take place under an all-knowing eye. “We’re all God’s Creature’s in the dark” laughs Sarah unaware of the darkness she is about to witness.
Set in Crowley’s corner of the woods on the west coast of Ireland in a tiny fishing village, you can almost taste the sea from your seat. That is the power of Chayse Irvin’s cinematography. Filled with pictures of crashing waves, unforgiving cliffs and fish-gut floors, the eyes behind Beyonce’s Lemonade provide striking imagery to an equally striking script.
Director team Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer hit the atmosphere of a small town on the head, despite both being based in Brooklyn, New York. Their film is soaked in horror imagery- quick edits, crows screeching and eyes snapping awake in the pale morning light. All of it calls to mind the terror of being infamous when everybody knows where you live.
There is a sense of the care and responsibility that went into the creation of this project. Significantly, it does not include a rape scene, choosing to make the audience listen to the women at the centre of the story.
God’s Creatures is a truly special film, placing victims’ stories at its heart. It never asks you asks to weigh up the two sides. It only asks you to believe.
God’s Creatures is in UK cinemas from March 31st.
Featured Image Credit: Glasgow Film Festival