BEAST: A Monstrously Great Slow-Burning Mystery
Beast is a gritty psychological-mystery with a brilliantly dark, pulsating and atmospheric heart, with an exceptional lead performance from Jessie Buckley. Michael Pearce delivers a brilliantly assured and confident feature-length directorial debut.
Believe it or not, Avengers: Infinity War isn’t the only film in our cineplexes at the moment. Michael Pearce’s Beast is one of the films vying for your attention opposite the superhero behemoth, providing perfect counter-programming in the form of a slow-burning psychological mystery-thriller that wraps you tightly in its clutches and relentlessly tightens its grip across a well-measured and blistering 106 minutes.
Life in an isolated community in Jersey and surrounded by her oppressive family pulls a lonely, troubled woman towards a secretive outsider suspected of a series of brutal murders. Starring Jessie Buckley (in her first major screen feature-length), Johnny Flynn and Geraldine James, Beast has been described as a ‘warped adult-fairytale’ exploring themes of suppression, trust and love in this dangerously dark mystery.
When the screening invite dropped into my inbox for Beast, I breathed a sigh of relief: it had been on my radar but I’d resigned myself to missing it (at least during its theatrical run), mainly because it was only being granted a rather limited release and would likely be buried by the aforementioned superhero team-up film. Seeing it only confirms that Beast is the sort of the film you should really seek out, particularly in a theatrical capacity, as it provokes a reaction benefitted by crowd interpretation. You cower, you gasp and you laugh throughout as your mind ticks over, making for a well-balanced, tonally-satisfying experience.
Visual and narrative subterfuge
Pearce’s screenplay unfurls at an intoxicating pace, pulling you into the given mystery and ensuring you are engaged throughout, planted firmly on the edge of the seat. It largely ignores needless red herrings and cheap bait-and-switch storytelling tactics, confronting its enigma head-on: is Pascal (Flynn) the serial killer the community believes him to be? It considers pack mentality and hostility towards those unlike ourselves, with a deeper thematic resonance beyond your more basic whodunnit serial killer narratives. With some dark, dirty and striking imagery contrasted beautifully by sweeping shots of Jersey’s beaches and views, Pearce’s direction is solid too, playing with the idea of subterfuge just as well visually as it does thematically.
It’s not all darkness in Beast mind: quite surprisingly, there are lashings of wonderful uncomfortable humour that benefits the tone and atmosphere of the piece fantastically. Enforcing this uneasy, awkward air that defines the families’ relationship and provides intriguing ground to cover, the verbal sparring and snark glances create some brilliant comedic moments that are always perfectly timed and executed. Geraldine James is particularly great at playing these humorous moments, culminating in a wedding reception sequence that may one of my favourite scenes of the year so far. It’s another nicely-detailed layer to the family dynamic and the feeling of suppression and community suffocation that the film explores so well, making some of Moll’s choices later in the film even more fascinating (and understandable).
Jessie Buckley’s powerhouse performance deserves your attention (and plenty of awards)
What makes Beast so fantastic though is the exquisite central performance from Jessie Buckley. Unbelievably magnetic and engrossing, Buckley plays Moll superbly, slowly shedding her timid persona and setting her on the dangerous path to a believed freedom gained from a new found confidence, gifted by her unconventional partner. Her powerhouse performance makes Beast all the more captivating to witness and experience, with Moll becoming one of the most endlessly fascinating roles you will see in quite some time, elevated extraordinarily by an award-worthy Buckley.
Flynn is rather impressive, too. Like Moll, Pascal is enthralling – you never quite know who, or what, he really is. You will find yourself guessing, second-guessing, then triple guessing the character, scrutinizing his motives and questioning his actions. It is thanks to measured volatility Flynn injects into the role and how seemingly incongruous his relationship with Moll is, that it all works so effectively. Their chemistry is palpable and it’s increasingly difficult to take your eyes off them. Pearce’s screenplay sure does help too: these really are incredible characters that spark off of one another brilliantly.
If there’s something that lets Beast down though, it is its reluctance to end. There were a number of moments where a cut to black would have been considerably more effective than the conclusion it ultimately winds up with; one that tries to have its cake and eat it too. It loses the expertly-crafted ambiguity that has been building masterfully throughout, hammering the point home to damaging effect. By dragging it out for an additional fifteen minutes or so, it weighs down an otherwise tight, taut and tense film. While you find yourself reflecting on it long after the credits have rolled, I’ll be very surprised whether many people actually like the ending it so clumsily lands on; I significantly prefer it more in theory than in execution.
In Conclusion: Beast
Beast is a breed of its own, a gritty psychological-mystery with a brilliantly dark, pulsating and atmospheric heart. Led with an exceptional lead performance from Jessie Buckley and a handful of fantastic supporting turns, Michael Pearce delivers a brilliantly assured and confident feature-length directorial debut, for the most part, masterful in its tension and ambiguity.
With fascinating and enthralling characters, it’s difficult not to be drawn into Beast immediately and while your attention begins to dwindle towards the end, it doesn’t take too much away from a truly exception British film (and an astounding debut from Pearce).
What did you make of Beast’s divisive ending? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
Beast was released in the UK on April 27, 2018 and received a limited release in the US on May 11, 2018. For all international release dates, see here.
“The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it.” Read the Letter of Solidarity here. Make a donation to the legal fund here.