Part psychological thriller, part twisted fairy tale, part character drama Beast is a film that manages, like its lead character, to never conform to one thing. As such it is a film that demands your attention, but never allows you all the way in until it is ready to reveal its true identity.
Moll (Jessie Buckley) lives on the island of Jersey as a tourist guide. There is a darkness from her past, a darkness to which her mother (Geraldine James) holds her to emotional ransom for. Quiet, reclusive and clearly unhappy Moll drifts through life, she is indifferent to the world around her. One morning Moll encounters the enigmatic Pascal (Johnny Flynn) and the two embark on a whirlwind romance. But Jersey is under the shadow of a killer, a killer targeting young girls. As their relationship develops Pascal becomes the prime suspect in the murders demanding Moll to assess both her past and her future with Pascal.
Remember the name Michael Pearce, because Beast is his debut feature and it is a debut of staggering, powerful and profoundly moving impact. The provincial island of Jersey acts as the perfect closed community for this twisted tale to unfold. On the surface there is something not quite right, a sense of unnerving within Pearce’s direction. It’s subtle, it’s delicate, his camera delicately gliding around Moll to highlight her spectator like quality to the world around her. The sun kisses everything, Moll basks in it, and in turn we are allowed to relax into it. A cunning move given the unsettling turns the story will take.
The true majesty of Beast lies within its ability to never conform to what you expect it is going to be. It’s opening feels typically arthouse bleak, Moll experiencing some kind of existential crisis without ever going full breakdown. But then Pascal arrives and the direction shifts, suddenly there is a romance, a heated and powerful love so seductive it threatens to suck you down into a vortex of passion with it.
There is a hint of Malick’s Badlands at this point but Beast offers a chemistry that prickles the skin. Imagine the dreamlike quality of Picnic At Hanging Rock that then gradually morphs into something both terrifying and immersive. It weaves a compelling tapestry of character, mystery and narrative. Pearce never leads you down the garden path but rather into a labyrinth of human psychology and emotion, only showing you the way out when you are least prepared for the ramifications of knowing the truth.
As Pascal Flynn is hypnotic. His piercing eyes, slightly scarred face and sideways looks are both intoxicating and terrifying without ever allowing you to fully gauge who this man is. One minute you believe him to be a blue-eye killer, the next a tragic victim of circumstance. It’s a stunning performance and one that hints at serious leading man potential in Flynn’s future. Meanwhile Jessie Buckley is simply breathtaking in the lead role. As Moll she manages that rare feat of creating a blank canvas for us to paint our own interpretation of who she is. Wilful yet shy, stubborn yet easily manipulated the deeper we get to know Moll the more we love her and yet the more we are wary of her. The power in Buckley’s performance is to allow us to relate to Moll as outsiders looking in, one minute a victim the next a rebel always sympathetic.
Beast is a film that gently takes your hand, leading you into its world before grabbing you by the throat, refusing to let you go. A film of staggering power it will etch a place in your very soul.