God’s Creatures movie review: Paul Mescal delivers another nuanced performance in dark and gritty tale

Oscar-nominated star is utterly convincing as a coddled son accused of rape, but Emily Watson steals the show in 90s era drama

Paul Mescal plays Emily Watson’s beloved son in God's Creatures

Paul Whitington

Giving red carpet interviews as Gaeilge, taking his mammy to the Oscars — everything Paul Mescal does at the moment turns into social media gold.

God’s Creatures (15A, 101mins)

He is, though, first and foremost an actor, and an exceedingly good one: his naturalism seems effortless, and that’s certainly the case in this gritty blue-collar drama directed by Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer.

Emily Watson co-stars as Aileen O’Hara, a manager at a seafood processing plant in an Atlantic fishing village who’s delighted when her son Brian (Mescal) returns from a lengthy stay in Australia.

Aileen is hoping Brian won’t start working on the trawlers again, as a local fisherman has just been drowned at sea, so she’s very pleased when he reveals an ambitious plan to revive the family oyster farm, which has fallen into disrepair.

His father Con (Declan Conlon) seems sceptical, but with Aileen’s help, Brian gives it a go, wading into the chill Atlantic at low tide to repair broken cages and seed them.

But when doing so, he must always watch the tide, which rises fast: it’s a metaphor for other troubles, which are about to overwhelm the O’Haras.

While out at the pub with Aileen, Brian bumps into Sarah (Aisling Franciosi), an old flame, who also works in the processing plant.

The next day, Sarah accuses Brian of having raped her and when the police are called, Aileen is asked if she can provide an alibi for him.

Her anguished decision forms the moral crux of this dark and gritty tale, which is set in the 90s, with clothing and attitudes to match.

At one point, Sarah is refused service in the pub (she is the alleged victim, remember). As she leaves, the publican makes a joke about being careful no one follows her: his customers, all men, burst out laughing.

It’s a powerful scene, though the best moments in the film are those at the oyster beds, as Brian struggles to assert himself on an indifferent and hostile environment.

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Elsewhere though, the film feels overwrought and overwritten, as though it had been not merely set in the 90s, but made in that decade.

Powerful performances make it a drama worth watching, particularly from Watson, who’s superb as Aileen — a good woman with questionable judgement.

As for Mescal, his nuanced and subtle portrayal gives us the sense that Brian is a charming, but brittle young man, who’s used to getting his way.

Rating: Three stars