×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘All Creatures Here Below’

Fugitive lovers and a stolen baby hit the road in this well-crafted but overly derivative indie drama.

Director:
Collin Schiffli
With:
David Dastmalchian, Karen Gillan, David Koechner, Jennifer Morrison, Richard Cabral, Joe Doe.
Release Date:
May 17, 2019

1 hour 31 minutes

The current controversy over Georgia’s restrictive new abortion laws, and resulting calls to withdraw Hollywood coin from that state, have underlined the political-shuffleboard nature of U.S. location shoots. Coincidentally arriving at the same time is “All Creatures Here Below,” the first feature to take advantage of Kansas City, Mo.’s filmmaker tax incentive, which is unusual in that it’s a strictly municipal rather than statewide ordinance.

That fiscal footnote may wind up being the most memorable thing about this sophomore feature by director Collin Schiffli, whose debut, “Animals,” was also a collaboration with scenarist-star David Dastmalchian. It’s a decently acted and crafted drama that nonetheless seems built on a foundation of phony pathos, revolving around doomed lovers whose fate seems more a matter of contrived miserabilism than authenticity. Goldwyn is opening the indie at 10 theaters across the nation on May 17, simultaneous with VOD launch.

Ruby (Karen Gillan) and Gensan (Dastmalchian) aren’t homeless, but otherwise live very close to the bottom rung of society on L.A.’s margins. At the start, she loses a church janitorial job because she gets too close to an adjacent school — apparently she has a history of covetousness toward other people’s kids. Gensan isn’t doing much better working at a pizzeria, though even that modest employment stability evaporates when his boss (David Koechner) informs him that corporate HQ has decided to shutter this storefront.

Panicked at how he and lifelong bestie/lover Ruby are going to stay afloat, Gensan bets his last paycheck on a cockfight. He loses but, amid the chaos of a police raid immediately afterward, manages to violently wrest the match’s winnings from its scary bet taker (Richard Cabral). This means he and Ruby must get outta town fast. But it turns out she has a surprise reason for fleeing too: She’s stolen a seemingly neglectful neighbor’s baby girl.

Popular on Variety

The two leads give committed performances, even if Dastmalchian maybe didn’t need to commit to taking his shirt off every five minutes. Still, Gensan and Ruby feel like abstracts, actors’ conceptions of “desperate societal victims”—she’s a wide-eyed, waif-y naif with the attention span of a toddler, while he’s a short-fuse type who always seems on the verge of committing a felony. When we finally get a bit of their shared backstory, it comes in the form of a ludicrously overblown monologue (told by Gensan to John Doe as a sympathetic relative) that mashes together grotesque childhood abuse with a turkey-centric spin on Jodie Foster’s spiel about those silent lambs.

Forever yelling at each other, these two have an annoying dynamic. The wistfulness meant to be evoked by their fleeting “family” is seriously compromised by the fact that (as Gensan duly notes), Ruby is too much of a “dummy” to be safely allowed near any baby. She may have the mothering instinct, but she lacks the most basic sense.

Its road trip narrative wending from L.A. to K.C., “Creatures” has time for local color in Bongani Mlambo’s attractive widescreen cinematography. But there’s not much room for characters other than the principals, and mysteriously little interest in lending them greater dimensionality. We have to take on faith that their plight is a damn tragedy, albeit one that feels assembled out of spare parts from “Thieves Like Us,” “The Sugarland Express” and “Of Mice and Men.” The climactic pouring on of angelic choirs by Ceiri Torjussen’s original score does not lend poetical grandeur to a tale that remains stubbornly smaller-than-life.

Schiffli directs with a nice balance between momentum and naturalism. Yet the creditable handling can’t quite mask material that feels inorganically rooted in secondhand dramatic clichés. He and Dastmalchian might want to try another theme: “Animals” was also about a desperate young couple on the run from their own demons. Empathy for the unfortunate is a good thing, but these movies feel born of the kind of “life wisdoms” you get from acting class rather than from real-world experience.

Film Review: 'All Creatures Here Below'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, May 14, 2018. Running time: 91 MIN.

Production: A Samuel Goldwyn Films release of a Samuel Goldwyn Films and Bleiberg Entertainment presentaiton of a Planeo Films production. Producers: Amy Greene, Nacho Arenas, Chris Stinson.

Crew: Director: Collin Schiffli. Screenplay: David Dastmalchian. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Bongani Mlambo. Editor: Amanda Griffin. Music: Ceiri Torjussen.

With: David Dastmalchian, Karen Gillan, David Koechner, Jennifer Morrison, Richard Cabral, Joe Doe.

More Film

  • Two-time Oscar®-winner Tom Hanks portrays one

    How Production Designer Jade Healy Recreated the Beautiful Neighborhood of Mister Rogers

    Production designer Jade Healy is doing double duty this awards season. For one, her work can be seen in Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.” There, she created a world of angst and individuality, making use of negative space as a couple reaches the end of their relationship. In Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” [...]

  • Eddie Murphy Awkwafina

    The Golden Globes Polish Up Their New Respectability (Column)

    It’s always a fun ritual to peruse the nominations for the Golden Globes, because you’re probably going to see a handful of eyebrow-raisers and maybe a jaw-dropper, the sort of “Oh, did they actually do that?” choices that make the Golden Globes the Golden Globes. That’s the theory, at any rate. But it may be [...]

  • Greta Gerwig Lulu Wang Ava DuVernay

    Hollywood Responds to Golden Globes Female Director Snub: 'Advertisers Should Weigh In'

    Snubs and surprises are par for the course when it comes to award show nominations, but outrage over the shut-out of women in the best director category for the 2020 Golden Globes is proving considerable. Women nominees and Hollywood gender equity watchdogs have expressed disappointment and anger over the exclusion of at least four women [...]

  • Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is

    Golden Globes: Six Things to Know About the Film Nominations

    Most of Monday morning’s Globe nominations didn’t come as a big surprise. “Marriage Story,” “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Parasite” have been ruling awards season – their many nominations were expected. But Globe wins don’t necessarily translate to Oscar gold — about half of best pic wins have been in sync [...]

  • Rey (Daisy Ridley) in STAR WARS:

    Daisy Ridley on Life After 'Star Wars': 'I Am Working on Liking Myself'

    When Daisy Ridley was cast to play Rey in 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” she vaulted from the quiet anonymity of a young working actor in the United Kingdom to sudden global mega-fame as the star of one of the most anticipated movies of the century. Since then, she reprised her role in Rian [...]

  • Game of Thrones Avengers Endgame

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers: Endgame' Among Most Popular Tweets of 2019

    Twitter released its top-trending topics and tweets of 2019 with “Game of Thrones,” “Avengers: Endgame,” and actor Tom Holland commanding the most tweets in the TV, movies, and actors categories. BTS holds both the No. 1 spot in the most-tweeted-about musicians category and the second-most-retweeted tweet worldwide. Since its release in June, a video of [...]

  • Lorenzo Soria77th Annual Golden Globes Nominations,

    HFPA President Responds to Golden Globes' Female Director Shut-Out: 'We Vote by Film'

    Despite gains in the number of films and TV shows helmed by women, female directors were completely shut out of the Golden Globes once again this year. The snub was immediately called out on social media, with filmmakers like “Honey Boy” director Alma Har’el tweeting, “do not look for justice in the awards system.” However, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content