Beast is a taut, intriguing and well-performed thriller that looks to be headed for glory until veering off track with the finish line in sight.
Beast is set on the windswept island of Jersey, where writer/director Michael Pearce hails from. There is a serial killer on the loose, the victims all young women (referencing, apparently, a series of sexual assaults that took place on Jersey during Pearce’s childhood). Chief suspect is unkempt, ill-mannered loner Pascal (Johnny Flynn).
Ironically, Pascal first presents as a hero rescuing a damsel in distress. The damsel is Moll (a superb Jessie Buckley – mesmerising). Self-esteem crushed by a manipulative and sometimes cruel mother (Geraldine James), she’s a loner with a headful of riotous red curls. At her birthday party, she’s upstaged by her glam blonde sister, and exits unannounced to the local disco. On her way home at dawn with a guy she’s been dancing with all night, she finds herself the object of his unwanted ardour. Emerging from the wilds with hunting rifle raised, a grubby Pascal, bag of poached rabbits over shoulder, frightens off Moll’s would-be suitor and gives her a lift home.
Thus begins a tempestuous love affair that liberates Moll from her appalled family and restores her personal power. Cue scenes of the lovers in the throes of grand passion against a wild coastal backdrop. This theme of the wild vs the civilised is prominent throughout.
Beast is being promoted as “a warped adult fairytale”, and there’s something to that. The narrative incorporates elements of Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella. Parallels might also be drawn to Wuthering Heights and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. But the film is more than a mashup of its influences, and gleefully subverts its fairy tale referents. It emerges, for example, that Moll has a dark side that threatens to give the beast that lurks within Pascal a run for its money.
This is Michael Pearce’s debut feature film, and he shows a deft hand as both writer and director. Especially impressive is his building of the narrative, which is mercifully free of obvious exposition, unfolding naturally. There is no extraneous detail, no over-explaining, no spoon-feeding of the viewer. Pearce trusts us to join the dots. He’s a storyteller in command of his material – until the latter stages, when the scalp-tingling tension begins to drop away.
In the last 10 minutes or so the film goes off the rails, culminating in a silly ending. This is unfortunate, because for the most part Beast is an exceptionally good thriller on all levels. It’s well worth a look.
Movie Website: https://www.beastthefilm.com/
Australian release date: Beast at Luna Cinema, Leederville from September 13, 2018
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