David Dastmalchian is not an immediately recognisable name. But you will know his body of work which includes The Dark Knight, Prisoners and also Ant-Man proving he is no ordinary guy from Kansas.
All Creatures Here Below sees the actor taking on scriptwriting duties in a thought provoking indie drama that marks a homecoming, of sorts, with the entire shoot taking place in Kansas.
From the offset we are introduced to a young couple in a rough neighbourhood just trying to survive. Ruby is a cleaner in some form of government programme and after being re-assigned to a different post is only concerned about whether or not she will still get her food stamps. And it is after Gensan (David Dastmalchian) loses his job where things start to get interesting.
We go from a cock-fight that is raided by the police to Gensan killing the guy trying to escape with the money. To add to this you then have Ruby kidnap her neighbour’s baby. Director Collin Schiffli quickly amps up the drama to get things going with the couple now on the run. With filming entirely in Kansas, Schiffli makes excellent use of his surroundings and confidently offers a variety in his shots to add some grit.
This quick succession of events leaves the story teetering on the edge of ridiculousness and asks a lot of viewers to stick with it at this point. There also no feeling or sense of urgency given the circumstances but perhaps this is more to reflect on how deluded the couple is and their failure to grasp the severity of the situation.
You are under no illusion that these two are far from criminal masterminds.
But even with the above considered it becomes frustrating when shopping for supplies in a scene where Gensan muses over how a car seat with a racing stripe is cool despite being under the exposure of security cameras.
It is blasé and makes you question why at this point you should even care about these characters, a pretty major issue in David Dastmalchian’s script. Early on you do get a sense something is off about the two, more so with Ruby, that gives All Creatures Here Below a sense of mystery.
There is a child-like nativity to this character, a mental vulnerability, that Karen Gillan embodies in a performance that keeps things interesting in this film. That element of not knowing is a redeeming quality for the film.
It isn’t until the final third of the film that we learn more about the couple’s past that may make you more understanding of their destructive actions. But for Schiffli and Dastmalchian it really is too little too late.
There is a darkness born out of broken characters and you do feel some sympathy as you do get a sense they never really had a chance in life but it plays on this just a little too much.
With an ending that is tragic and heart-wrenchingly painful in equal measures it is an intriguing film but it just doesn’t create the emotional connection it aims for.