Reviewed by Leah Whelan
Set in a rural coastal village in Ireland in the early 1990s, God’s Creatures, starring Emma Watson as Aileen and Paul Mescal as her son Brian, gives an interesting insight into violence against women, familial loyalty and tensions, and the Irish state’s inability to protect survivors of sexual assault.
The story begins with Brian returning from Australia unannounced after several years there. The happiness expressed by Brian’s mother and sisters is contrasted with the tensions between Brian and his father.
The small village is sustained through its fishing industry in which the men fish on the seas, and the women work in the factory sorting, cleaning and packaging fish and oysters – managed by Aileen. Fungus halts labour for a period of time, as it destroys the regular oyster production. Similar to Brian’s surprising return – there is confusion as to why the fungus has returned now.
A claim of an assault is made against Brian, and when his mother is called to the station, she quickly gives him an alibi. The lies quickly impact relations in work, in public and within the family.
Sarah, the person who made the claim and a work friend of Aileen, is the real victim of small-town mentality. Her claim, when brought to court, is quickly thrown out due to insufficient evidence and the alibi provided by Aileen. The proceedings are over as soon as they began, which serves to highlight the speed at which these serious cases pass through the Gardaí and courts.
The sexual assault takes a physical and mental told on Sarah, and as a result she misses work and is subsequently fired. In addition, she is not welcome and refused admission to the local pub – as she leaves the men at the bar make sexist jokes and taunts. We get a vivid depiction of this ‘locker room talk’, as the men even go on to say they ‘better not follow her now’, referring to an aspect of the claim made. Not only is Sarah let down by the state, but also by the community around her who come together to protect an abuser, rather than the abused.
Brian displays no signs of regret or remorse at what he done and continues to work, socialise, and even attempt to get with other women. Haunted by her own guilt, at an intense boiling point, Aileen questions him on whether he feels anything about what he did.
There is a clear contrast between how the men and women view the situation. Brian’s sister Erin is horrified by both her brother and mother’s actions towards the situation. She tells her mother she would view it differently if she heard Sarah’s side. Sarah’s friends are disgusted by the assault and make it known to Aileen in the workplace without directly mentioning it. The reality of the role she has played, the person her son is and the impact it has had on her family and work relations has a degenerating impact on Aileen.
The film is a good insight into the real-life domino effect sexual assault can have on the people closest to the crime. The silencing of the victim, the unwillingness to step forward and the tragic ending for Aileen’s conscience shows the turmoil and harm that protecting abusers has.