Beast [Film review – GFF18]
A dark, sensuous character study of a woman pulled from the margins into the murky greyness of human morality by her mysterious new boyfriend, Beast is a coming of age psychological thriller love story set on the picturesque island of Jersey.
Centring on a young woman called Moll (Jessie Buckley) who lives at home with her oppressive mother and ailing father, she’s desperate for an escape when escape comes in the form of the mysterious Pascal (Johnny Flynn). Falling in love with Pascal is transformative for quiet Moll, but with a serial killer targeting young women on the island, her happiness comes to an abrupt end when Pascal is suspected of being the killer.
Director Michael Pearce tries to pack a lot into Beast’s 1 hour 47-minute running time, making the film seem longer than it is. But it doesn’t feel bloated, instead taking its time to show Moll’s painful unravelling from a meek middle class girl to something more like her true self, something more beastly.
Pearce has been compared to director Jane Campion, and he does follow a similarly textured approach to filmmaking, making touches and looks between characters as loud as the dialogue, and an oppressively sinister, almost jarring sound design to create a sense of creeping dread. A particularly effective moment is when Pascal’s imminent arrival to the screen is announced by three isolated beats of a drum.
There’s also a lovely juxtaposition between the beauty of Jersey and the moral decay of the people who live there, captured very prettily by Scottish cinematographer Benjamin Kracun.
Beast almost feels like a darker companion piece of Campion’s love story Bright Star, but while Campion brings love and death to the screen through soft breezes, cherry blossoms and chilly winters, Pearce does it with muddy earth, violent seas and dark forests.
But it’s Buckley’s emotionally shattering central performance that keeps the film spinning in orbit. She creates a character that is so emotionally conflicted and tangibly human that her next action is always impossible to predict, making the climatic third act genuinely end-of-your-seat-nail-biting stuff.
A fairytale-esque exploration of love and death, Beast is a wonderfully dark fable for modern times.