All Creatures Here Below

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

All Creatures Here Below
dir Collin Schiffli
scr David Dastmalchian
prd Amy Greene, Nacho Arenas, Chris Stinson
with David Dastmalchian, Karen Gillan, David Koechner, Jennifer Morrison, Richard Cabral, John Doe, Abel Becerra, Chad Crenshaw, Walter Coppage, Vanessa Davis, Francesco Villegas, Michael Mena
release UK Feb.19 gff,
US 17.May.19
18/US 1h31

koechner morrison doe

gillan and dastmalchian
There's an earnest realism to this film that overcomes some rather outrageous plot points, following a couple on a desperate road trip. The film's tone is a fascinating mix of sweet and scary, growing in both directions as the story progresses. Actor-writer David Dastmalchian brings a remarkable tenderness to both the script and his scenes with a particularly strong Karen Gillan.
Life is a struggle for Ruby and Gensan (Gillan and Dastmalchian) in Los Angeles, already scrounging for food when they find themselves unemployed. Haunted by her past, Ruby seems unable to understand her own actions, so Gensan has to care for her. When Gensan's last-gasp plan goes awry, they find themselves on the run. And thinking it was abandoned, Ruby has brought the neighbour's baby along. As they drive east, they begin to think about finding a place to settle down as a family. Perhaps Gensan's childhood home in Kansas City will work.
The sense of desperation surrounding this couple is vivid, as they put their hope in food stamps, lottery tickets and a big bet on the cockfights. Ruby's heart is in the right place, but her crippling naivete and mental instability make things more difficult. Still, the clearly adoring Gensan tries to remain patient and relatively level-headed. He knows this situation can't continue, but sees the joy and focus having a baby brings to Ruby, who is oblivious to the dangers he spots at every turn.

Director Schiffli tightly maintains Gensan's perspective through the film, which means that Dastmalchian and Gillan are in focus while all other characters swirl around in the blurred background. Both actors are terrific, creating an unusual screen couple with Gensan frantically trying to keep his head above water as Ruby does her best within her limited point-of-view. The performances are notably understated, which makes both of them engaging. And their chemistry is powerful, textured in some unusual ways.

Without much in the way of deeper resonant themes, this isn't an easy trip to take. Some details about Ruby and Gensan's background are filled in along the way, notably when they stop to visit Gensan's Uncle Doug (Doe). And there's never any question of whether this story will have a happy ending, as the various options seem so bleak that they're difficult to even think about. This means that there are some seriously heart-stopping moments along the way, as well as some painful decisions that need to be made.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 30.Apr.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall