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United Kingdom 2017
Directed by
Michael Pearce
107 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


Synopsis: A troubled young woman, Moll (Jessie Buckley), living in Jersey in the Channel Islands between Britain and France, finds herself pulled between her oppressive family and the allure of a rebellious misfit, Pascal (Johnny Flynn).

If you’re in the mood for a thriller but aren’t prepared to subject yourself to another pumped up Hollywood contrivance, British writer-director Michael Pearce’s debut feature may be just the ticket for you. With an insightful, original script, well drawn characters, compelling performances and solid across-the-board craftsman(and woman)ship, Beast is no run-of-the-mill affair.

The core of the film’s success is the fine script which cleverly sets its drama in the cloistered setting of a sea-girt island, a kind of topographical analogue for the social and personal isolation in which its two main characters live. With Moll as his main focus. Pearce economically builds a picture of her quiet desperation, despite her age, living under the controlling gaze of her domineering mother (Geraldine James). We gradually come to understand that Moll’s attraction to Pascal is not just motivated by daughterly rebelliousness but also by a deeper sense of estrangement that they recognize in each other. This intense dynamic comes to a head once Pascal becomes a suspect in a series of brutal rapes and murders and Moll is left staring into the abyss of her own soul.

What makes the film so effective is the way in which Pearce develops this dynamic on a psychological level at the same time as it plays the traditional cat-and-mouse, did-he-or-didn’t-he-do-it thriller question. Although we do get an answer to this question, and it's a relatively conventional one at that, in a way it would have been better had we not as the film is above all an insight into the unfathomably dark wells of loneliness by which both Moll and Pascal are possessed. Pearce himself seems to have struggled with this as there are any number of points in the final twenty minutes of so in which the film could have ended, leaving us with a different perspective each time.

In the leads Buckley and Flynn are perfectly cast, she nervously yearning and vulnerable, he, roughly provocative and enigmatic both rather like characters in a Emily Brontë or Thomas Hardy novel, albeit with a level of violence that those authors would never have imagined.  Benjamin Kračun’s cinematography of the dangerously rocky cliff faces and pounding sea helps with building this sense of the destructively elemental whilst Jim Williams’s score, also often pounding, helps with ratcheting up our apprehension.

There are a few points that seem to leave questions  - a home invasion scene which leaves no subsequent trace, another which turns out to be a dream and could have been omitted without loss and a plot development involving some DNA and an arrested suspect which seem to indicate both a forensic flaw and an unresolved moral issue - but the overall drive of the film effectively brushes these aside  Indeed. despite the real darkness alluded to by its title, Beast should turn out to be one of the year’s most impressive debuts.




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