Since her unforgettable, Oscar-nominated 1996 feature film debut in Las von Trier’s “Breaking the Waves,” Emily Watson has gotten good at bringing us to tears.

She did it again in 1997’s “The Boxer” (opposite Daniel Day Lewis) and in 1999’s “Hilary and Jackie” (for which she earned another Oscar nomination), as well as throughout the years that followed.

In her heartbreaking and bleak new movie “God’s Creatures” (A24), Watson plays Aileen, a woman who shares her home with her husband Con (Declan Conlon), daughter Erin (Toni O’Rourke), grandbaby, and borderline catatonic father-in-law Paddy (Lalor Roddy), in an Irish fishing village. She works at the fishery in a supervisory role, overseeing the women who work on the line fileting fish and sorting oysters.

Despite living on the coast, many people in the village can’t swim, and the movie opens with the body of one of the villagers being pulled from the water, followed by the funeral. Much to Emily’s surprise and delight, her son Brian (the suddenly ubiquitous Paul Mescal) appears at the wake after having lived away in Australia for many years. There’s no explanation (yet) for why he left or why he’s returned, for that matter. His sister Erin is happy to see him, while his father Con is visibly less pleased.

Now that he’s returned, Brian plans to revitalize Paddy’s abandoned oyster farm. Con is not thrilled with the idea, and neither is fisherman Francie (Brendan McCormack). Francie’s a bit of a bully as we can see in his interactions with his girlfriend Sarah (Aislin Franciosi), who works with Aileen at the fishery.

We come to find out that Brian’s not the most honest person when Con confronts him about oyster poaching. But that’s not the worst of it. While having drinks with Aileen at the local pub, Brian is distracted when Sarah walks in and bellies up to the bar. He approaches her and buys her a beverage, leaving Aileen alone at the table. Seeing she’s now a third wheel, Aileen leaves.

What follows is a series of mounting catastrophes. Sarah faints at work and when Aileen goes to help her, Sarah pushes her away. A fungus is discovered in the oyster harvest which means that cultivation ceases, and they must be destroyed. Sarah stops coming to work altogether. Aileen is summoned to the police station where Brian has been arrested due to a claim made against him for an assault in the village. Making matters worse, Aileen lies and says that Brian was at home with her at the time the assault was alleged to occur.

With her world closing in on her, Aileen is forced to make a difficult decision, but we sense it may be one she’s made before. “God’s Creatures” is as overcast and murky as its setting. There is more death, and the family seemingly erodes like the coastline. Watson, Mescal, and Franciosi provide what little light can be found.

Rating: C+

Gregg Shapiro is the author of eight books including the poetry chapbook Fear of Muses (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2022). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.