All Creatures Here Below

David Dastmalchian is normally a bit part actor who you might recognise from his striking looks in films such as The Dark Knight Rises and Ant Man. In All Creatures Here Below he has created a starring role from himself with Collin Schiffli who they both collaborated on a previous feature Animals that also shared a very grim sense of reality. Dastmalchian plays the brooding Gensan (Gen), a cook at a struggling pizzaria who blasts music in his ear via a CD walkman to help drown out the real world around him. His partner Ruby (Karen Gillan) scavenges rubbish sacks for recyclables and reusable goods. She’s just lost her job as a cleaner for going beyond her set boundaries, which infuriates Gen when he returns to their one bed fly infested apartment. It’s clear that Ruby is more a child than she is a functioning adult. The line between Gen being her lover and guardian are more or less the same. When Gen loses his job due to cut backs, he takes his final pay packet and bet it on an illegal cock fight hosted by a shady latino gang at night, leaving Ruby unattended. When the cops bust the operation, Gen sees his money about to go, but makes a desperate act to take it back. And when he does, he’s forced to go on the run. Instructing Ruby to meet him in a secret location with whatever valuables and essentials she can bring together. When she turns up with a box with a new born that she has kidnapped, Gen’s problems mount up as both are fugitives. Crossing state lines on the run, Gen tries to figure out how he can get him and Ruby out of their situation and start somewhere new. But with Ruby refusing to give up the baby, the harder it is for them to hide. But to get more money to fulfil their escape plan, they have to return to a place that is truly haunting for them that harbours a dark secret.

There is always the danger when actors create parts for themselves that smack of desperation and narcissism, putting their ego ahead of a good story or leaving an audience feel fulfilled. And unfortunately David Dastmalchian has fallen prey to this theory. Dastmalchian and Gillan seem too desperate to impress than actually consider that either character are truly interesting or feel empathetic towards. And that’s a long road to be on these characters with, it also dampens any tension when they face the threat of being caught. There is genuine intrigue as to what secrets the audience is to learn about their upbringing and trauma. But when the reveal comes it is fairly cringe as it is grotesque that it confirms you’ve just wasted a good hour and a half of your day. It’s manufactured misery porn that you can only think that the actor and director are more interested in the ego of their own performance than creating something that is authentically tragic about those existing on the fringes of American society. Thus it might still be some time that David Dastmalchian has a dream lead role that is not of his own making.

★★

Chris Aitken

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