“Escalation” is a little tool storytellers employ to build drama in a tale. The opening of a story sets a normal base level, and as it moves forward the lives of our protagonists get progressively better or progressively worse. At the family dinner table, stories that move in the positive direction work amongst friends, but not-so-much in film. Heartache and tragedy always win the Oscar.
From director Collin Schiffli, All Creatures Here Below is a downhill slide for the young couple, Gensan (David Dastmalchian) and Ruby (Karen Gillan). When the pizza restaurant Gensan works at converts to “carry out” only, he is downsized setting off a steady barrage of bad luck events and bad decisions.
For Gensan and Ruby, they live a “one check away” lifestyle in the low rent area of Los Angeles. With Gensan out of work, Ruby also manages to lose her job cleaning a local church because she was caught in an area she wasn’t supposed to be in. Careless mistake?
Gensan is an angry man. This anger simmers, and Gensan must make efforts to control it. Ruby, on the other hand, has been dulled by the traumatic events in her past. The film presents a slow reveal of Ruby and Gensan’s abuse at a young age, and both are coping with it differently.
“…he is downsized setting off a steady barrage of bad luck and bad decisions.”
After losing his job, Gensan cashes out his last paycheck and gambles all of it on a cockfight on the east side of L.A. As the match ends, the police raid the fight. In the commotion, one of the organizers grabs the cash from the day and takes off with it. Gensan follows him to his car and demands his winnings. A struggle ensues, and Gensan winds up killing the man, taking the money, and stealing his car.
Meanwhile, Ruby is left alone with only her thoughts. She begins to hear a baby’s cry triggering a vision of a baby she once had. When she comes to, Ruby spots a baby crying alone in the apartment window across from her.
Dodging the police, Gensan has Ruby take a bus and meet him at a stop across town. He plans to take Ruby away from L.A. until the heat from the cockfight incident cools off. Things get complicated as Ruby arrives with a large cardboard box containing the baby.
“…want so much for the situation to work itself out and it’s so painful when it doesn’t.”
All Creatures Here Below primarily follows the lead character Gensan played by the film’s writer David Dastmalchian. Gensan just wants to find a place of peace and safety, but life will have nothing to do with it. He places himself in an illegal cockfight that escalates to murder. Thinking he can merely flee the state, Ruby intensifies their problems with the kidnapping. Gensan’s need to control everything is continually thwarted either by the law chasing them or by Ruby‘s delusions of motherhood.
This is not a happy film. It’s not meant to be. Dastmalchian and Gillan have created two very wounded and flawed characters, but likable as hell. “Hell” is a good descriptor. You want so much for the situation to work itself out and it’s so painful when it doesn’t. I was right there with Gensan feeling control slip from his fingers, his moments of clarity quickly clouded by circumstance, and his final look on his face at the end.
Let me end on this, All Creatures Here Below does place a spotlight on the wounded and abused adult-children wandering the streets of America. There’s no overt message of the problem in the film, but you know they’re there like ghosts blended into the background and this is one of many tales to be told. It’s clearly a story that has ruminated in the mind of Dastmalchian for quite a while. You’ll like All Creatures Here Below because you connect with the leads and their story and want to take part on their journey…for better or for worse.
All Creatures Here Below (2018) Directed by Collin Schiffli. Written by David Dastmalchian. Starring David Dastmalchian, Karen Gillan, David Koechner, Jennifer Morrison, Richard Cabral, John Doe. All Creatures Here Below made its world premiere at DT LA Film Festival.
8 out of 10 stars