UK Release Date: 27th April 2018
Runtime: 104 minutes
Director: Michael Pearce
Writer: Michael Pearce
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James, Trystan Gravelle, Oliver Maltman, Shannon Tarbet
Synopsis: Tired of her parents’ apathy, a prim and proper young girl meets a mysterious outsider and forms a relationship with him, just as he becomes the key suspect in a horrific killing spree.
It seems movies set on the Channel Islands are like buses. You wait forever for one to arrive and then two of them turn up at once. Last week brought the world the unique nightmare of trying to communicate to box office staff that you want a ticket to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, while this week brings a Jersey-set movie with a rather simpler title, but far more in the way of narrative complexity. Beast is the debut feature from writer-director Michael Pearce and it’s a deeply unusual tale of class boundaries, the power of suspicious groupthink and the strength of pure, animal attraction.
Moll (Jessie Buckley) is the black sheep of a prim and proper family, overshadowed by her siblings in the eyes of her mother (Geraldine James) even at her own birthday party. In a rebellious mood, she flees to a nightclub and is having difficulty with an aggressive man when she is found by Pascal (Johnny Flynn). He’s a poacher living on the edges of the more affluent parts of the island and Moll finds herself drawn to him. Meanwhile, she continuously rebuffs the advances of family friend and police officer Cliff (Trystan Gravelle), while learning that there might be more to Pascal’s past than he has told her.
Beast is an absorbing drama built upon the twin pillars of lust and secrets. The relationship between Buckley and Flynn’s characters is believably intense and there’s much talk of “smells” and “wildness” that adds multiple shades of meaning to the movie’s title. One scene in which the two make love in a forest clearing is anything but romantic, pausing to focus upon the dirt and mess their animalistic union creates – not least upon the pristine white sofas in the home of Moll’s family when she returns afterwards.
The unbridled passion of Moll’s sexual awakening gives the first half of Beast its enviable sense of narrative propulsion. Buckley’s performance is reminiscent of the naive wonderment of Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water. Just as in that movie, Moll is transformed into someone more resilient and willing to take on authority through a romance frowned upon by society. In one evocative late scene, Buckley’s previously timid, quiet voice becomes a shocking primal scream, railing against the injustice of the world. Flynn’s character, with his leonine face and scuzzy appearance, might not be a fish man, but he is certainly an uncouth outsider.
The second strand of Beast focuses on a string of grisly murders taking place on the island. Suspicion falls on Pascal for complicated reasons, but it doesn’t take long for the court of public opinion to decide his guilt. This creates difficulty for Moll, who is torn about whether she can trust her new beau, particularly as he is guarded about his personal life. Pearce’s script never settles on a perspective or a point of view, continuously wrong-footing and surprising even the most jaded of audience members. It’s a disorientating and absorbing story that plays with the idea of public perception and the rush to create a scapegoat.
Beast is a compelling feature debut for Pearce and a real showcase for its performers. Buckley, who first found fame on the BBC talent show I’d Do Anything, is a particular shining star here and it’s her performance that sticks in the memory for a long time after the credits roll. This is one of the most potent and promising British movies released this year and, for those who don’t fancy three hours of superheroes punching each other, it’s a quality slice of counter-programming.
Pop or Poop?
On the strength of Beast, Michael Pearce is a real director to watch and he has delivered a stunning debut feature. It has the tone of a modern fairytale, set in the strange environment of a society split between the super-wealthy and the super-poor, with Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn playing the shades of that divide to compelling and believable effect. The murder-mystery is almost secondary, but that’s by design.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.