There’s an art to knowing just how long to hold off on releasing a movie, especially one that stars someone whose shot to the big leagues seems immediate and inevitable (see: the shonky Jennifer Lawrence horror movie House at the End of the Street, held back until Hunger Games came out). This is the strategy that’s been employed by God’s Creatures, releasing in the UK a full 10 months after its Cannes premiere to capitalise on the ever-increasing stardom of Paul Mescal. It’s a canny idea on paper yet, after a (somewhat unexpected) Oscar nomination for his mesmerising turn in Aftersun and getting cast as the lead in Gladiator 2, suddenly his shining light actually makes God’s Creatures look a little feeble in comparison, the kind of predictably grim indie that he’s already grown beyond.

For his headline-grabbing star power, though, Mescal is not actually the lead here, instead playing Brian, the son of our heroine. This is Aileen (Emily Watson with a not-quite convincing Irish accent), the sort-of matriarch of a grey fishing village in Ireland, managing the lines at the fish and oyster factory worked by the village’s women after the men bring in the hauls. Aileen’s world has already been thrown for a loop by the death of the son of one of her close friends, but stability really comes crashing down when Brian, who has been vaguely ‘away in Australia’ for years without contact, suddenly returns.

Watson plays these early moments brilliantly, her justified suspicion and anxiety about Brian’s unannounced arrival flickering on her face between moments of loving joy, while Mescal brings a nastier edge than we’re used to from him. There’s nothing major to begin with, but his curt and emotionally distant jabs towards his sister and her new baby tells us something’s up. It’s hardly the equal of his Aftersun performance, but he still makes for an effectively icy antihero in the opening half hour.

It’s when he turns full villain that things go a bit awry, the village rocked after Brian’s old flame Sarah (Aisling Franciosi) accuses him, very credibly, of rape, and Aileen, almost by instinct, chooses to lie for him, giving him a non-existent alibi. Though there is some solid stuff here about the almost complete futility of a woman reporting sexual assault to the proper authorities, this final ingredient in Shane Crowley’s script (complete with rural poverty, ceaseless bad weather, and Aileen’s decrepit father-in-law slowly dying of dementia) makes it all a bit Factory Settings Bleakness.

It does help, though, that directing duo Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer create such a strong sense of place. As the village lines are bitterly drawn between those who believe Sarah and those who choose to simply shrug it off, life has to continue as normal in a place with essentially one workplace and literally one pub, unchangeable routines adding pointed glares. There are also some great, surreal shots of the particulars of Aileen and Brian’s respective work, especially the oyster nets at low tide, which look completely alien to anyone unfamiliar with the business.

It’s not enough to save the ending, though, which lands with a thud thanks to some shabby plotting and an overwritten climactic monologue. It’s an odd finale to an otherwise resolutely realistic film (there’s a very effective, if a little on-the-nose, moment in the pub, where the misogynistic banter hangs around like an almost physical fog) that shows promise from its young directors, even if it is likely to only be a footnote in its star’s history.


Directed by Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer

Written by Shane Crowley

Starring; Emily Watson, Paul Mescal, Aisling Franciosi

Runtime: 100 mins

Rating: 15