God’s Creatures review – Emily Watson and Paul Mescal elevate a solid study of violence

The delicate balance of a small Irish fishing community is unsettled when a woman, Aileen (Emily Watson), finds herself torn between protecting her son, Brian (Paul Mescal), and being true to her conscience. There’s a special connection between Aileen and her boy. When he returns unexpectedly from several years in Australia, it’s as though the sun breaks through the sullen blanket of cloud that squats over this corner of Ireland. But as the sparse, discordant score suggests, all is not harmonious in the family. Brian is at odds with his father. And his affection for his mother belies his more troubled relationships with other women. The framing within the widescreen cinematography emphasises Aileen’s increasing estrangement from the village after she instinctively sides with her son.

This solid but familiar drama is acted with conviction; Watson and Mescal are equally compelling. But there’s only so much a quality performance can do – and the film leans heavily on shots of Watson’s troubled face – when the material is a well-meaning but dourly rote exploration of cycles of violence.