Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer— the director’s behind A24’s latest psychological drama, God’s Creatures— make films to ask questions, not to answer them.
“We hope God’s Creatures serve as a conversation starter for people leaving the theater,” Holmer tells LA Confidential.
Set in a fishing village in Ireland, the film centers on the moral dilemma of Aileen (Emily Watson) when her son Brian (Paul Mescal) is accused of sexual assault by Sarah (Aisling Franciosi), who works at the factory alongside Aileen and dated Brian when they were growing up.
“The individual acts as a symptom of society,” Mescal says.
The society in question is a tight-knit community— one driven by loyalty to their jobs, their family and maintaining the status quo of a village informed by its harsh weather and sea. Pressurized by a tough environment, suppressed emotions and cycles of intergenerational violence permeate families and relationships.
“I wanted Brian to feel familiar, I wanted him to look like somebody’s friend, somebody’s brother because that’s what it looks like in the real world,” Mescal says, in a nod to the fact that people who have been sexually assaulted often know their abusers.
Brian and Sarah hardly have any screen time together, but it’s easy to grasp the two have known each other for a long time. Franciosi explains she and Mescal workshopped together so “we could feel like they had had a very rich history before we meet them in the film.”
Franciosi’s preparation also included working with a clinical psychologist, Dr. Elaine Barrett, who she worked with on 2018 film The Nightingale. Not only did Davis and Holmer want to safeguard the process and properly tell the story, but they wanted to properly portray “the physical process of dealing with ramifications of violence in the body” for both Sarah and Aileen.
“[Aileen] is grappling with this dissonance that is her internal self in the external world and how often stress and doubt manifest and reveal themselves first in the body,” Holmer says.
The film purposefully never shows the sexual assault. Instead of piecing together what happened that night, Aileen must endure an internal journey where she comes to terms with what her son has done and what she stands for.
Like Aileen’s festering inner turmoil, much of the community turns on Sarah in a quiet, but ruthless manner. She gets fired from her job at the factory after not showing up to work and a bartender refuses her service. It’s in these moments we see how abusive patriarchal patterns stay intact.
“This movie asks really interesting questions [about]… how we structure our moral compass. We are complicit in the fact that victims of sexual violence find it incredibly difficult to have redress, to have heard, to be believed, to find justice,” Watson says, noting how it hasn’t been until very recently that we teach that you do not have sex without consent. Brian and Aileen, she says, certainly would never have had that conversation.
“She’s really examining not only this image of her son, but also this image of her life and the community in which she lives in and the values she’s upheld, consciously or subconsciously, over her entire life,” X explains. “It’s really about seeing what has always been around her.”
Like Aileen, Sarah felt content with her life. She never wanted to have to make the decision to leave the comfort of her hometown. However, Franciosi guesses, Sarah feels at peace with it. What’s more, not only does Sarah get to escape a town characterized by a repeating of trauma, but her leaving also helps to dismantle the structures that uphold these traditions. Sarah proves we don’t have to live with abuse.
“I feel very grateful to bring such a sensitive truth to the screen,” Franciosi says. “We need entertainment in our lives— boy, do we. We need levity and comedy and all that stuff, but I think it’s really important for film to actually try and move the needle of discussion. And I do think that our film tries to do that.”
God’s Creatures is now in theaters.
Photography by: Courtesy of A24