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Emily Watson

“GOD’S CREATURES” My rating: B (At the Glenwood Arts, VOD)

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A blanket of Celtic fatalism drapes over “God’s Creatures,” rendering even a sunny day wan and gray.

Set in an economically-challenged Irish fishing village, this entry from co-directors Sale Davis and Anna Rose Holmer (“The Fits”) centers on a middle-aged wife and mother who out of love makes a seriously bad decision.

Aileen O’Hara (Emily Watson, sinking her teeth into her meatiest role in ages) is a crew chief at a seafood processing plant. She and her husband Con (Declan Conion) seem to more or less share the same space, brought together mostly by their first grandchild, born to their daughter.

Then, quite unexpectedly, Aileen’s son Brian (Paul Mescal) appears after spending seven uncommunicative years in Australia.  Aileen is overjoyed to have her boy back in the fold. Her husband less so…it’s all he can do to shake Brian’s hand. What’s that about?

At first glance Brian is a handsome charmer.  But his behavior raises questions  He left home suddenly (why?) and rarely communicated with his family during his long absence.  Now he’s back (again, why?) ready to take over the long-unattended oyster beds owned by his uncle.

Aileen is too thrilled having her firstborn back under her wing to dwell on such business. But within weeks of his return Brian is accused of sexually assaulting his old girlfriend Sarah (Aisling Franciosi of “The Nightingale”), one of Aileen’s co-workers.

Interviewed by the police, Aileen lies, providing Brian with an alibi. She does so automatically, almost without thinking.

But in the aftermath her conscience begins gnawing.  She senses something disquieting beneath her boy’s outward magnetism.  Worse, Sarah sticks to her accusation and becomes a pariah in their tiny community.

Viewers who demand that everything be spelled out for them will find little solace in “God’s Creatures.”  The film’s narrative approach is elliptical; there’s all sorts of suggestion but little solid information.

Uncertainty seeps through Fodhia Cronin O’Reilly and Shane Crowley’s screenplay and is reflected in the carefully contained performances.  Watson suggests Aileen’s torn loyalties not with bit speeches but through her eyes.  Similarly, Mescal — who made a big splash as the overwhelmingly decent leading man of Hulu’s “Normal People” — cannily uses his good-guy image to disguise Brian’s true nature.

No doubt many will find the film’s understated approach too remote. And the denouement of Brian’s story arc is borderline ridiculous, a deus ex machina  moment comes out of left field.

On the plus side, the film works extremely well as a study of working class life, with its economic uncertainties and demeaning situations.

| Robert W. Butler

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