The debut feature from Michael Pearce, Beast follows Moll (Jessie Buckley), a self-destructive twenty-something, who comes from an oppressive upper-middle class family. Still living at home, working as a tour guide, and caring for her Father, her life is still mostly dictated by her appearance obsessed Mother (Geraldine James). Arguably Beast could be considered a part of the new surge of British movies about the countryside, but not quite the countryside, and not quite Britain, Beast operates in the in-between space, with the constant mood of uncertainty and unrest.
On the Isle of Jersey, very British and very white, a series of murders and kidnappings have occurred, and the killer is still at large. After fleeing her own birthday party, Moll gets drunk and goes out dancing. Walking home at sunrise, a ‘mystery man’ with a gun saves her from sexual assault by the man she’s been dancing with all night. Later revealed as Pascal Renouf (Johnny Flynn), this not-so-cute meet-cute is the unsettling begging of their relationship, which is then continually tried and tested by the judgements of Molls family, and more serious allegations against Pascal.
Part drama, part romance, part thriller, everything was there, without getting the tone and pacing is right; it didn’t quite slip between the subtler and more intense moments very seamlessly. Jumpy and jolty, Beast is confusing and disorientating, but remains compelling, thanks to strong performances, and stronger sound design – you can hear every single breath.
One issue is that it’s hard to be invested in a romance when such little time is spent with the couple. Pascal barely says a word before their lives are inevitably intertwined, though perhaps it is best he didn’t, as much of the dialogue in the film falls into corny cliché. It’s sort of boring to have a woman’s story revolve around a man for loads of the film, especially a man who isn’t half as fascinating as Moll.
Never sure if we are cool observers, or directly experiencing the world of Beast from Molls point of view, moments of introspection only scratch at the surface. This is frustrating as Pearce has written an infinitely complex and interesting character in Moll which Buckley plays with an equal balance of childlike curiosity and brutal force. Outwardly numb, her self-destructive nature and inner chaos is way more fascinating than the romance and murder mystery which the film centres itself around.
The first alone time we get with Moll is as she observes herself in the mirror prior to her own birthday party, in a clean white and marigold room, in a clean white and marigold dress. She stares at her reflection before pulling a hair out of her neck (you know the ones), flinching only slightly. Her voice-over informs us that Killer Whales in captivity go deaf from the sound of their own screams, and the pristine white and cream of her own home starts to feel a lot more sinister.
Clearly a female story written by a male author, the perspective and sensitivity to Molls feelings is lacking, the film is relentlessly unfair to her. Geraldine James as Molls mother is a force throughout the entire film, her judging glare felt through the screen. The actresses played off each other so well, really that was the relationship I was compelled by and wanted to see unravel.
Though the story may drift and drag, the fields, cliffs, woods, back gardens, beaches, and even the clubs, pubs, and buses of Jersey are all captured with the warm glow of a memory. The summer romance Beast promises feels more like a spring fling, but it is nonetheless a confident and curious debut from Pearce.
by Reba Martin
Reba Martin is from Bristol. She’s been obsessed with the Simpsons since before she could walk, and watches it religiously to this day. Her hobbies include planning to go to the cinema, and going to the cinema. A few favourite films are Eraserhead, Ghost World, and Clerks. You look at her movie diary here and she tweets @rebaxmartin