God’s Creatures: comfort and claustrophobia | Review

Movie still: Paul Mescal stands by a harbour at twilight and lights a cigarette.

A woman lies for her son in evocative, slow-burn drama God’s Creatures – and it shatters their tiny coastal community.

When Aileen O’Hara (Emily Watson) steals from the seafood processing plant where she works, she doesn’t give it a second thought. Feckless son Brian (Paul Mescal) is back from Australia with an itch to restart the family’s oyster farm – and no money to do it. The stolen seed oysters are a chance for him to make a go of it, and for the family to heal old rifts.

Having told one lie so easily, Aileen finds herself lying for her boy a second time. This time, the repercussions are far messier.

Haunting and intimate – but slow

Two faces of home – comfort and claustrophobia – gaze out at us from Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer’s brooding drama, God’s Creatures. Its remote Irish fishing village is beholden to the sea, at gruelling cost.

Men here spend their lives in the water, but tradition dictates they’re not taught to swim. The film opens to the gargled screams of a drowning man … and then the sea calms and carries on.

Things are no easier on land. There’s work at the seafood plant, and the odd drink in the village pub. People live, die and fish, ad infinitum.

When fungus is found at the processing plant, it knocks the village sideways. Amid the rising tensions, a female worker reports a sexual assault, and the fallout splits the community into ever greater pockets of isolation and anger.

God’s Creatures isn’t a sunny story – it’s too unflinching in its gaze for that. Instead, its lens picks out the fine detail in coastal communities and lives of quiet desperation.

Like Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s The Beasts, Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly’s story examines what this looks like for women. Her characters graft at home and then again at the seafood plant. They stand by each other – until the actions of men force them apart.

The soundtrack is by turns beautiful and menacing, while incidental noise tells a second narrative of horror, sadness and grinding repetition. It’s just right for the story’s social realism and skewed intimacy of a community bound together, warts ‘n’ all.

Cinematography and landscapes are beautifully hypnotic, too, but all the plaudits can’t make up for a pace that drags on the story. This is a rewarding film, though in spite of its slowness.

God’s Creatures (2022), directed by Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer

This film screened at Glasgow Film Festival 2023

What to read or watch next
  • All or Nothing (Mike Leigh – introspective, the lives of women)
  • My Name is Alfred Hitchcock (GFF23)
  • The Beasts (GFF23, women, isolation)

Picture credit: supplied by Glasgow Film Festival