Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Glasgow Film Festival 2023: God’s creatures

A fascinating, yet ultimately dissatisfying, exploration of what it means to be the mother of a beast, toeing the line between victim and villain.

Featured as one of the most recognisable titles in this year’s Glasgow Film Festival, Saela Davis and Anna R. Holmer’s film God’s Creatures had so much potential. Set in a small fisher village in Ireland, with Emily Watson and Paul Mescal at the centre of a compelling mother son-relationship, and an eerie score backing the growing tension, this film should have been one of the best psychological thrillers of the year. Instead, a suspenseful first two acts are confronted with an underwhelming and frustrating conclusion.

The film starts with an ominous death – a young man has drowned at sea, caught far offshore by the rising tide. The village gathers to mourn with his mother, at which point Brian, played by Paul Mescal, enters the scene. Having been away for quite some time, his mother Aileen, played by Emily Watson, is rejoiced to see him in spite of the sombre occasion. It is in this opening sequence that we are introduced to the most compelling aspect of the film: mother-son relationships. We have the mourning mother and her dead son, Aileen and the returning Brian, and finally, Erin (Aileen’s daughter) and her young boy. This repeated image as well as the explicit parallel to the virgin Mary and baby Jesus provides the foundation for the growing tensions in the village, which underscore years of generational trauma passed down from generation to generation.

At the centre of this turmoil are Brian and Aileen, whose close relationship, at times even bordering on incestuous, starts to fall apart following an accusation by a young woman, played by Aisling Franciosi. Watson and Mescal have magnificent chemistry on screen, bringing their complicated mother-son relationship to life by beautifully building tension between each other, and with the rest of the villagers, up until the climax.

Sadly, here comes the issue. Not only is the climax anticlimactic, but it goes against character and narrative interest. Furthermore, it completely nullifies any possibility for meaningful consequences and results in the unneeded destruction of complexity. The foreshadowing for this moment is not particularly subtle, reducing its shock value, and it does not solve the interesting themes the film presents surrounding the tolerance, blindness and the enabling of continued violence against women.

While God’s Creatures set up a very compelling narrative, it fell short of delivering the message it originally presented, instead favouring an oversimplified ending that stripped the film from its prior complexity, abruptly abandoning the main character in favour of a character that presents the more common traits of a female victim in media.

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