All Creatures Here Below is not a horror, but maybe it should be. In my time as a film critic I’ve seen some things (and I mean, seen some things), but there’s no other way of putting it: that was some disturbing stuff right there.
The worst part about this whole ordeal is that I was looking forward to seeing this so much: I have a lot of respect for Karen Gillan and I think David Dastmalchian is a brilliant performer, by all rights they should have worked well together and pulled off an excellent film. To their credit, they are faultless as far as their on-screen presence is concerned – playing two people who find themselves destitute, outcast and on the run – and the fact that the movie had a world premiere at DTLA film festival last week means that exposure, funding, and distribution weren’t the problem. No, if you’ll hear me out, it’s what’s going on plot-wise that’s causing issues.
All Creatures Here Below
Director: Collin Schiffli
Release Date: 18 October 2018 (DTLA Film Festival)
The bare bones of the movie are as follows: Ruby and Gensan are a young but deeply troubled pair that are forced to go on the run after being turned out of jobs, cast out by those around them. Ruby’s desire for a family is so desperate that she’ll go to any length to make that happen – including kidnapping a neighbor’s baby. All the while, Gensan is forced to flee the city they reside in, and the trio goes on the run.
Sounds ok? Well, there are themes that involve the couple, the baby and the other people in their lives that make it difficult to watch. I could list all the things wrong with the movie, or I could actually put you into my shoes for a few moments and walk you through what’s going on here. May I? Great. If I could trace my viewing history it would go something like this:
00: 00:20 – This is wonderful, starting off so promising! Elegant shots of natural scenery, echoes of choral chamber music, must be reminiscent of pastoral idylls that we’ve lost and the title links back to a more innocent time and we’re all creatures to be accepted for who we are! How quaint and award-worthy! It’s a yes from me, let’s just see how things go from here. Nice one, Collin Schiffli.
00:15:00 – So far so good, exposition is running smoothly and I’m sucked in! How about these two characters played by David Dastmalchian and Karen Gillan – they’re great! Three-dimensional, a little bit off-kilter and definitely have some intrigue surrounding them, what could it be? I’m enjoying this idea of an unforgiving city that doesn’t offer anything to help two destitute people, and how about some anti-establishment ideological jabs to show their plight?
00:20:00 – Nice editing. Those jump cuts really show up the disjointed kind of existence they live.
00:30:00 – Mm-hmm, great, this is taking a turn as expected, and that’s cool. A bit of suspense is necessary for plot engagement and – ooh! a road trip, this is going to get weighty and no doubt the stuff that goes unsaid between Dastmalchian and Gillan is going to be where it’s at. The idea of their own solipsistic little world is fascinating, how interesting that they live such isolated lives… if only someone could help them, or circumstances could work out for them. I agree, she seems like an oddball – she’s childish, so focused on her own issues she can’t look beyond it to think of anyone else – and he’s extremely volatile, but I want to see how it plays out.
00:35:00 – Major plot development! There is a baby! They’re on the run! Dude, things are heating up. After all, they’re such fantastic performers! You know, I really think they’ve carried the story so far and it’s great to see Karen putting herself out there and pitching her acting abilities to an obviously troubled but loveable character. It’s clear they’re both desperate, vulnerable people, I definitely feel for them.
00:45:00 – I’m enjoying this. I feel that this illusion of happiness is temporary and maybe it’s a teeny-tiny bit sinister in that there have been some major plot developments and not much consequence so far – but that’s good! I’m looking forward to reaching the destination they’ve tried so hard to avoid and I do hope that things work out. Look! A lovely, kind stranger! That’s perfect, that’s just what they need!
00:50:00 – I’m not entirely convinced about the story arc here. It feels slow, thoughtful…a lot to process…David Dastmalchian is looking a bit vacant, though. I wonder what’s going on in his head?
00:55:00 – Is it me or did someone turn up the drums?
01:00:00 – Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, I think… perhaps maybe Davey boy over here is maybe slightly a bit of a psycho, yep, I think he’s gonna snap –
01:01:00 – I’m sorry, what?
01:02:00 – Actually that’s ok, could be worse, you know I thought for a second –
01:03:00 – NOPE THERE IT IS IT’S ALL COMING OUT NOW
01:04:00 – This is bad. For everyone involved. This is why Schiffli decided not to put all the backstory stuff in the first half an hour. At least the trauma of their lives is intercut with tranquil images of the landsc-
01:50:00 – NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPETY NOPE.
01:15: 00 – AS IF IT COULDN’T GET ANY WORSE
01:20: 00 – WTF IS GOING ON IN HIS HEAD
01:25:00 – (scarred)
01:30:00 – [credits roll]
So, without spoilers – because quite honestly I’d hate to put that on anyone – that’s an overview of everything I thought about All Creatures Here Below as it happened. As you can see, I’d find it difficult to accept that anyone actually enjoyed this movie, unless you have no soul. I’m not kidding. Looks can be deceiving and even with a collection of pleasant-looking characters, setting, lighting, cinematography, editing, and SFX – all the ingredients required to make a good movie, basically – you can still end up with something that takes a dark and just plain nasty turn. Yes, I’d suggest making your own mind up, but from my point of view, the existence of such troubling themes takes away any enjoyment in the film at all.
While I appreciate that some movies deal with dark themes and handle them well – take something like Sharp Objects earlier this year – to me this was unexpectedly intense. The major crux of the film hangs on some important details from Gensan’s childhood and it just felt like too much piled on in one sitting to be digestible. When there are several major crises in a character’s life the effect is anything but entertaining – instead, it undercuts what could have been picturesque and dreamlike about the picture, warping it into something sinister, ugly and unpleasant. All Creatures Here Below may have had me hooked to begin with, but I regret that it lost me with its devastating final act.