God’s Creatures: Emily Watson and Paul Mescal Shine in Grim Family Melodrma (Cannes Film Fest 2022)

Emily Watson and Paul Mescal Shine in Grim Melodrama, ‘God’s Creatures’

In Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer’s second feature, the gifted actors play a mother and a son whose return home to their Irish fishing village brings back trauma from the past.

In their first collaboration, The Fits, co-directors Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer depicted a Cincinnati projects recreation center as if in a dream to tell an audaciously elliptical coming-of-age story of Black female adolescence.

Their new feature is equally immersive and culturally specific, and even if the drama is too sluggish, the emotional power of the final act is considerable.

The (unnamed) fishing village setting is a lonely place of rocky shores and dark, treacherous waters that claim a life, leaving one more woman a widow in a long line stretching back into the past.

The men go out in light wooden boats, which offer no protection from the elements, to tend to the oyster beds or fish for salmon.

Under the supervision of Aileen O’Hara (Emily Watson), the women work the conveyor belts at a seafood plant across the harbor from the fishermen’s dock.

The sad funeral becomes an occasion of joy, when Aileen’s beloved son Brian (Paul Mescal) returns home unannounced after years in Australia, cut off from the family.

The distance between him and his father, Con (Declan Conlon), suggests a past violence that drove Brian away from a place where people either seem to stay forever or leave and never return.

But Brian is back to turn the family’s struggling oyster farm around. He’s even determined to break through the dementia that silenced his grandfather, Paddy (Lalor Roddy), years ago.

Working from an original screenplay by Shane Crowley, Davis and Holmer observe with documentarian mode the rugged work of harvesting oysters.

Crowley’s script, based on a story he developed with producer Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly, keeps details of the traumatic night’s events to a minimum, and none of the violence is shown.

Sarah also remains absent, failing to show up for work at the seafood plant for almost two weeks without notifying the foreman.

Meanwhile, Aileen lies to the police about Brian’s whereabouts on the night in question, her natural maternal protective instinct provide alibi. But as she witnesses Sarah being ostracized by a community accustomed to banding together and refusing to address violence, Aileen is nagged by doubts.

Brian’s tough sister Erin (Toni O’Rourke) is more clear-eyed than their mother about the men in the family–her anger is fueled by close friendship with Sarah.

The evocative sense of a place frozen in time and the raw feelings behind the family dynamic carry the film, which may be too downbeat for its own good.

The performances are strong, especially by young star Mescal (The Lost Daughter), who continues to impress, maintaining Brian’s charm and keeping audiences guessing about his guilt.

Watson is deeply affecting, showing how Aileen’s feelings shift from encroaching shame through indignation to bitter resolve in a powerful climax. Her moving final scene with Franciosi (The Nightingale), in which Sarah reveals resilience beneath trauma, gives the film its emotional payoff.


Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight)
Distribution: A24
Production company: Nine Daughters
Cast: Emily Watson, Paul Mescal, Aisling Franciosi, Declan Conlon, Toni O’Rourke, Lalor Roddy, Marion O’Dwyer, Brendan McCormack
Directors: Saela Davis, Anna Rose Holmer
Screenwriter: Shane Crowley
Story: Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly, Shane Crowley
Producer: Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly
Director of photography: Chayse Irvin
Production designer: Inbal Weinberg
Costume designers: Joan Bergin, Lara Campbell
Music: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
Editors: Jeanne Applegate, Julia Bloch
Sound designer: Chris Foster
Casting: Shaheen Baig

Running time: 96 Minutes.