GFF 2019: Karen Gillan stars in a grim social realist drama following a poverty-stricken couple
Director Collin Schiffli joins forces once again with writer and actor David Dastmalchian on All Creatures Here Below, their second collaboration after 2014's harrowing Animals, which followed a drug-addicted homeless couple. In their latest effort, the pair tap back into a similar vein with another portrait of those pushed to the bottom of American society.
This young couple, Ruby (Karen Gillan) and Gensan (Dastmalchian), live in poverty-stricken downtown LA, relying upon each other with an almost frantic co-dependence, while flies crawl across pizza boxes in their one-room apartment. They get by on Gensan's kitchen job and Ruby's garbage scrounging, along with the occasional scratch card win but, after both are fired, things get desperate. While Ruby becomes fixated on a baby across the alley, Gensan takes a chance betting on an illegal cockerel fight that goes horribly wrong. Suddenly, the couple find themselves on the wrong side of the law and they take off into the night on a road trip back into their past.
With confident direction, Schiffli immerses us in Ruby and Gensan's world, favouring close-ups and low-angles to bring us down to the couple's level. However, the film doesn't quite work, due mostly to the script. While the leads give fine performances, All Creatures Here Below's grim social realism never pushes beyond the obvious, teetering on the brink of cliche. As a writer, Dastmalchian is more concerned with getting his characters – and the audience – to a melodramatic reveal relating to the couple's traumatic past, than spending time developing them beyond their socio-economic status.
Occasional moments between Gillan and Dastmalchian feel genuinely tender, but All Creatures Here Below suffers from unrelenting, one-dimensional moralising. Schiffli and Dastmalchian so badly want us to pity Ruby and Gensan that they forget to make us actually care.
Screening on Sat 23 Feb and Mon 25 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2019. General release TBC.