All Creatures Here Below presents as the story of two young lovers going on the lam after they both commit very definitely illegal acts that push an audience to the limits of empathy. As they progress literally and figuratively one poor decision leads to another and as the stakes get higher the decisions get worse. It’s a fairly well trodden road (trip movie) and the threat of not making it to the end comes as much from our protagonists as it does their situation. Spurned into action due to poverty it’s a theme that keeps re-emerging, Ruby (Karen Gillan) and Gensen (David Dastmalchian) live just on the edge of nothingness in every sense, and whilst Ruby may be too naïve to see it, Gensen has enough fury for the both of them.
Writer and co-star David Dastmalchian has been sitting on this story for thirty years, inspired by figures he grew up with in Kansas it is an informed perspective of desperate stakes. His world is mired in heat and deprivation and shot from low angles by second time collaborator director Colin Schiffli. Both leads have feet firmly in reality and Gillan in particular is excellent as Ruby with gentle timing never exploiting the clear detrimental child like state she exists in. Moments of genuine tenderness between them works well in whilst not sympathising, maybe understanding their choices. None of which are well guided, but none of which come from malice. The underlying cause of their choices is revealed all at once but doesn’t feel revelatory at this point. We have come so far with them and seen so much really sh**ty stuff already its hard to feel massive satisfaction with what could be a resolve. The underlying issue is that these cinematic characters are supposed to be redeemed from terrible acts by just coping with what life has dealt them. If we knew anything more than their situation about them maybe it would be resolved.
Gillan and Dastmalchian answered a lot of questions after the screening at the GFF, but Dastmalchian was keen to emphasise this is not a film to find answers from. It may be a hunt for home. It may be a comment on poverty in the US. It may be about understanding the worst bits of a human. It may be about what choices we make to survive. In the end it’s a beautifully shot, well-acted piece whose script pivots around its same moral axel one too many times to be truly remarkable.
For more on the Glasgow Film Festival 2019 click here.