Thursday, March 23, 2023

God’s Creatures – the unquestioning love of a mother for her son as a community cover up a young man’s abusive actions (QFT until Thursday 30 March)

When your mother’s been covering for you all your life, overlooking what’s going on under her nose in her own house, and even stealing to help you kickstart the family’s old oyster farming business, is it any wonder she’ll give you a false alibi when the police come knocking on the door about something much more serious.

God’s Creatures finally sees Paul Mescal’s halo slip as the actors takes on the role of villainous son Brian in an Irish fishing family. His mum, Aileen (Emily Watson), works as a supervisor in the local fish factory. Sister Erin (Toni O’Rourke) is the first to see clearly through the putrid fog of family protection that wafts through the house after a woman he used to hang around with “back in the day” – Sarah, played by Aisling Franciosi – makes an allegation of sexual assault.

The soundscape by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans is filled with bowed saws, percussive stabs and wails, like the sirens sending an unheeded warning from the deep. Sarah muses that “we’re all God’s creatures in the dark”, possibly pointing to a day when she and everyone else, including her abusive husband and other men in her life, will see their past actions judged under the spotlight of their creator. Or as my Mum was prone to remind me: “be sure your sins will find you out”. But when a family, the police and the judiciary turn a blind eye and accept the flimsiest of unprobed alibis, what’s a separated young woman to do? Even the pub landlord takes the wrong side.

For me, a difficulty with the plot is that there’s no actual moral ambiguity. The son’s behaviour and his mother’s response are both criminal and immoral. Sarah is a good friend, a good singer and long-suffering. The bad guys are misogynist Neanderthals. It’s very black and white, and the only grey comes from the stormy clouds that loom over the bay. That an Irish community can cover-up a young rapist’s actions and surround him with their protection is not a novel concept that will surprise audiences. And the film’s closure is less effective as a result, with a long, silent shot of Sarah in her car – with glorious sunshine over her shoulder for the first time in an hour and a half – feeling like an unemotional copout.

Directors Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer capture great performances from across the cast. Cinematographer Chayse Irvin makes the sea look dangerous and the villagers look like something straight out of an Ibsen play. Yet the good craft can’t turn the screenplay (Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly and Shane Crowley) into something that has any warmth or much hope.

God’s Creatures is being screened in Queen’s Film Theatre until Thursday 30 March and also on in Strand Arts Centre and Dundonald Omniplex.


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