Glasgow Film Festival: God's Creatures (2023)

Director: Saela Davis, Anna Rose Holmer

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Emily Watson, Paul Mescal, Aisling Franciosi, Declan Conlon, Marion O'Dwyer, Toni O'Rourke

Making their directorial debut, Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer adapt Shane Crowley's screenplay based on a story he co-wrote with producer Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly. Set in a windswept fishing village, Brian (Paul Mescal) returns from Australia to reconnect with his family and return to working on the their oyster beds. Aileen (Emily Watson) welcomes back her son with open arms, although does she believe he's changed or is it false hope? Matters worsen when a sexual assault charge is levelled against Brian, and Aileen covers for her son when the police begin asking questions.

Populating the village is an Irish community that sees themselves as close-knit, happy to help each-other as generations live and die there. The reality is they're stuck in regressive traditions, be it refusing to teach boys to swim or quietly accepting violence against women. When a "boys will be boys" attitude is accepted, complete with the nonchalant way police deal with an assault case, it's clear there's a rotten core to this community.

Brian's return is the lit match to the fuse, as his actions unearth these uncomfortable truths. He may put on a nice show for his mum, yet he's happy to change tactics to emotional blackmail if it suits him. Mescal captures a dangerous side lurking beneath this character, happy to regress whenever he encounters struggles instead of trying to move forward. This is evident when his impatience leads to cutting corners, and his recklessness threatens to catch-up with him regardless of how he tries avoiding responsibility.

This return is also the instigator for Aileen realizing not just how messed up things are, but how it's always been like that. Watson exceptionally captures Aileen's desire to see the best in her son, yet turns a blind eye to his destructive actions. As a result, she's left to face the fallout after her choice causes ripples in the community.

Central to this unfolding story is Sarah, a village resident who has long told herself that all she needed was right there. Those words are tested when, after being assaulted, the community turns against her for speaking out. Aoisling Francois delivers a quietly devastating performance as someone left to pick up the pieces after their world is shattered. While the slow-burn pace can be testing, the powerful score ensures the intensity doesn't let up in this compelling tale about an mother discovering the depths of her sons nastiness.

God's Creatures made its UK Premiere at Glasgow Film Festival