You couldn’t get much further away from the New York public school where Anna Rose Holmer and Saela Davis’ previous collaboration “The Fits” took place when being plunged into the sea just off the coast of Ireland in “God’s Creatures,” but there is an ongoing fascination with process, leaving behind the young woman who found a release for her pent-up energy in dance to look inside a fishery where fresh seafood is cleaned and filleted for consumption by the masses, a rhythm that is quite pronounced in a score that employs the shucking of oysters and the churn of machinery to great effect, but moreover gives shape to a routine for the residents of the town that depend on the business for their livelihood. It is an omen of things to come when a smoke break is interrupted by the screams of a longtime worker who finds a member of the family dead, but the funeral would seem like something of a new beginning when it brings in Brian (Paul Mescal), who disappeared to Australia for largely unknown reasons years ago, and has returned to the delight of his mother Eileen (Emily Watson).
While the two emphatically embrace, Holmer and Davis, along with screenwriters Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly and Shane Crowley envision Brian to be as much of a ghost as the recently dearly departed, hanging around the house with aspirations of taking over his grandfather’s independent practice of scavenging for oysters (a visually arresting bit of business when they spoils are dried out on giant racks on the beach) but mostly spending nights haunting the local pub where everyone in town goes when there’s few other entertainment options other than to make their own.
“God’s Creatures” turns on Brian’s elusiveness, making him a bit of a blank slate to even those closest around him and ultimately a rorscharch test to both those on screen and off once he stands accused of assaulting Sarah (Aisling Franciosi), one of the women that works at the fishery alongside Eileen. Your appreciation of what the creative team behind the film have done will be based largely on how much abstraction you’re willing to accept when the incident in question is left off-screen and Brian is less of a full-fledged character than a curiosity, showing flashes of anger that could make him capable of what’s said about him but also gentle enough to make Aileen think he’s still the kind boy she raised.
In spite of having no official title at the fishery, Eileen quite literally has the keys to the place as its longest serving employee, putting her in the powerful position of essentially being Sarah’s boss as well as Brian’s mother and the drama sneaks up on you as a fascinating #metoo parable as she must decide mostly on instinct who is to be believed. Rather than let the outcome of that internal debate become the main focus, Holmer and Davis are most interested in how readily Aileen is able to give up her assumptions, as her daughter Erin (Toni O’Rourke) implores her to hear out Sarah’s side of the situation and Brian’s behavior gives no clue as to how she should feel. Watson is expectedly riveting to watch, convincingly perplexed as Aileen works through her memory of both Brian and Sarah, who now seem like strangers in spite of knowing both from birth, but as intriguing is how the accusations tug at the thread that holds the town together, which is already starting to fray when the fishery is temporarily shut down to deal with a potential bacterial outbreak and could be ripped apart if people are forced to take sides in a place where everyone has known each other for generations. Although “God’s Creatures” may see its directors in foreign territory, Holmer and Davis create something that feels true to just about anywhere.
“God’s Creatures” will open on September 30th in select theaters and be available on video on demand.