god's creatures review

God’s Creatures review | The new Paul Mescal film is an intense gothic saga

Paul Mescal and Emily Watson shine in a destructive mother-and-son story. Read our review of God’s Creatures.


He’s the man of the moment. Paul Mescal hasn’t looked back since Normal People, with a clutch of fine performances and the prospect of even juicier roles keeping him in the headlines. Aftersun has been getting all the attention, but “the other Paul Mescal film” is about to hit cinemas and, while it could easily slip under the radar, God’s Creatures sees him rise to the challenge of a part which couldn’t be further away from the role of a troubled father that earned him an Oscar nomination.  

In God’s Creatures, Mescal plays Brian, the much-loved son of Aileen (Emily Watson), the supervisor at the fish factory in a small coastal town. She’s overjoyed by his sudden return from Australia, putting aside the strain it places on the small, already bursting family home and making up for lost time by enjoying his company as much as she can.

She’s shocked one night to be summonsed to the police station to provide an alibi when he’s accused of rape by one of her colleagues, Sarah (Aisling Franciosi). Aileen has to swear on oath that he was at home with her, and the ramifications of her decision are as far-reaching as the sea that dominates the life of the entire community.

god's creatures emily watson paul mescal

Credit: A24

The close-knit, one-industry town on the Irish coast is the perfect setting for a story where simmering emotions only come to the surface momentarily. Everybody knows everybody. The rumour machine is more efficient than any social media, and opinions carry more weight than facts. In one way or another, everybody is reliant on the sea and fishing, making their lives and futures precarious. The community’s insularity is no surprise.

But what is surprising is that Brian has given up life in Australia to return home after years of silence. He has no explanation, no plans other than living in the family home, and he eventually returns to oyster farming, even though he’d always said he hated the work and the town. Questions go deliberately unanswered, and too absorbed in her joy at having him home again to press him further, his mother puts her own niggling concerns and her husband Con’s (Declan Conlon) antagonism towards his son to the back of her mind. Could it be that he knows Brian’s easy-going charm hides something darker?  

Laden with gothic gloom, the all-pervasive atmosphere starts with the howling wind and carries through to the people. It’s a place where telling looks say so much more than words, and being shut out of conversations is the ultimate sanction. Demanding roles, then, for the actors at the centre of the drama but directors Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer have made powerful choices with God’s Creatures.

Mescal puts in yet another impressive portrayal: his Brian is as slippery as they come, taking for granted that his mother will always support him while constantly putting himself first and foremost. With its oedipal overtones, the film needed an equally strong performer for Aileen, and Watson is an inspired choice, her eyes agonising over her inner struggle as she fights, facing the likely truth about the son she adores. 

god's creatures emily watson

Credit: A24

The title comes with a certain irony in a town where religion is as omnipresent as the sea. They may be God’s creatures, but these people appear to have been abandoned and left to their own resources. There are no easy answers to their problems, and they resort to extreme solutions, so there’s hardly a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s that brooding quality that makes God’s Creatures so compelling.

God’s Creatures is in cinemas from 31 March.

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