God’s Creatures review: a gothic drama that reveals family secrets

Paul Mescal in God's Creatures
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Gothic drama God’s Creatures poses the question of how far you would go to protect your family – here’s our review.

Stories set by the sea, in remote close-knit communities, with the right score, always create an automatic ominous atmosphere. They send strange chills down your spine as the water ebbs and flows, especially in open water. Directors Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer have carefully constructed their gothic tale to make you feel on edge from the opening sequence. However, this doesn’t quite prepare you for the underplayed story of evil deeds and doubt.

In a small fishing town, Aileen (Emily Watson) spends her days at the canary and evenings at the local pub, and the time in between with her family. Their world is shaken by the return of their wayward son Brian, who left years before and has barely kept contact. After the initial joy at his return, Aileen soon finds herself lying for her son. This lie rips apart the family, their friends and even the community. She is left deciding whether she has done the right thing and living with the consequences.

With A24 picking the film up, God’s Creatures already is awarded a de facto stamp of approval that comes with a certain level of expectation. But both pleasingly and annoyingly the film subverts those expectations in various ways. The gothic nature of the story involving family secrets, the quiet thrillerlike tone, and asking some serious questions about how far you would go for family. The remoteness of the town, the ominous score and the fact that water is an everpresent in the character’s lives. Water, the sea, and waves can be terrifying on their own and this feeling of terror never leaves the screen, even in moments of so-called happiness.

The death that occurs at the start of the film really sets the tone, rather than Brian unexpectedly returning home. The death takes place at sea, hanging over the rest of the story, creating a sense of foreboding that leads to us anticipating another incident at sea.

Though the gothic elements of the story are compelling, the characters and even the plot at times come across as frustratingly underwritten. There are films that feel the need to over explain but here, there’s so much more that could be said. Instead, we are left with various glances and stares and the forever uncomfortable sense that we’re missing out on something. The overall impression is that we are left to decide who is ultimately telling the truth, but there seems to be other parts to the story that we’re never told. The focus shifts to that one night, and the mystery that the film promised slowly dies out.

Thankfully the cast are fantastic and are able to keep the film going even with this lack of clarity on certain parts of the characters. Paul Mescal is continuing to prove that he can play all sides of emotion with his silently menacing Brian. Aisling Franciosi is also still a fascinating talent. But it is Emily Watson who is the shining light in such a dark tale. Having her front and centre gives the film the edge it needs, even when lacking in story.

There is something commendable about God’s Creatures, setting it up as a mystery tied in with family that then quickly turns into an internal debate of morals. It’s as if there could have been another story waiting to emerge, but instead it went in another direction. It feels as if this could be the start of an exciting partnership between Davis and Holmer and as God’s Creatures is their first offering together, their next could be very intriguing.

God’s Creatures is in UK cinemas on 31st March.

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