By Julie Roman
Veteran character actor David Dastmalchian, who you'll recognize from Ant-Man and The Dark Knight, co-stars and writes All Creatures Here Below. The film is a deeply affecting, slow burn indie drama about a poor couple on the edge of society. They make several bad decisions and pay a terrible price for their mistakes. It is a dark journey filled with dread and foreboding. The climax will have you reeling. All Creatures Here Below certainly leaves an impression.
The film opens with Ruby (Karen Gillan) collecting plastic bottles. She wears overalls, a fanny pack, has dirty shoes and fingernails. Her eyes are wide. Her countenance simple. We then meet her boyfriend, Gensen (David Dastmalchian). Close cropped hair, tattooed, he attempts to walk with a tough guy swagger, but has a troubled look on his face. The couple live in a tiny room with a mattress on the floor. Gensen brings Ruby a candy bar and scratch-off lottery tickets. She lights up at the treats.
Ruby and Gensen, who she calls "Buddy", get bad news. Ruby has been fired from her temporary job as a cleaner. She doesn't understand what she did wrong. Gensen gets laid off from his job making pizza. He needs to figure a way to make that last check stretch. As Ruby waits for her man to come home, she succumbs to her most ardent desire. They both make a serious error in judgment. Gensen decides they need to flee the city, but is truly astonished by what Rudy has packed. On the run, they go to their hometown for unfinished business.
All Creatures Here Below grabs your interest from the opening frame. Ruby's behavior is strange, oddly hypnotic. Her interaction with a career counselor leads to understanding. Ruby is intellectually disabled. She sees the world in basic terms, without consequences. Karen Gillan plays the character as almost childlike. She's earnest, but unaware; a dangerous combination under the right circumstances.
All Creatures Here Below is the second collaboration between David Dastmalchian and director Collin Schiffli. They previously worked together on Animals, the 2014 SXSW Special Jury Prize winner. That film was also about a couple on the fringe. The pair continue to be successful in their depiction of poverty. There is no glamour or excitement in the lives of Gensen and Ruby. The bottom drops out when they lose their jobs. The only alternative is the street. Gensen acts out of desperation. He ends up in a much worse situation. It is a tragic cycle that becomes clearer when the characters reach their destination. The last fifteen minutes of this film is devastating.
All Creatures Here Below is difficult to watch. You can sense the trainwreck coming, but aren't sure when it's going to happen and why. This is the best tenet of the film. It keeps you on edge, while building sympathy for the characters. Their hardscrabble existence strikes a nerve. Despite their wrongdoing, you root for them to find happiness. Karen Gillan and David Dastmalchian are entirely convincing. Their believability is the foundation for the plot. It makes the climax much more impactful. All Creatures Here Below is produced by Nacho Arenas and distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films.