GFF18 Review: Beast

Michael Pearce writes and directs Beast, a Jersey set psychological thriller which launches Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn as two stars to watch. Whilst Beast is often thrilling and deeply unsettling, it loses itself in the unnecessary complexities of its convoluted last act.

Living in a middle class bubble in Jersey, Moll (Buckley) finds her world flipped upside down when she falls for outsider handyman Pascal (Flynn) to the outrage of her mother (Geraldine James) and the small island community. A series of murders on the island only heighten these tensions between Moll and her neighbours.

Pearce crafts a stifling atmosphere on the island setting. Moll is smothered by the life around her: middle class expectations of female behaviour (living in the shadow of her sister, home schooling, caring for her elderly father), past mistakes (that lead to Moll being home-schooled), pressure to find romance with unappealing suitors, and most pressingly her domineering mother – Geraldine James in a career best performance. Buckley channels these pressures in an impressively complex performance – and when Pearce’s narrative introduced Pascal into Moll’s life he provides the perfect escape.

Channelling contemporary UK crime-noirs like Broadchurch, Pearce examines the pressures of the judgemental community on suspects of crimes/societal outsiders. Moll’s pressures from home are now heightened to contempt and outbursts from her whole community as she and Pascal become suspects embroiled in the local murder cases.

Moll’s own doubts about Pascal soon rear their head to create an intriguing Sleeping with the Enemy dynamic where Pearce can play with the blurring lines between love, sex, death and darkness. This is captured with an earthy direction that uses the rural Jersey locations to its advantage – forestland, potato patches and blustering beach scenes help the character of the island parallel that of the film’s leads. This guttural direction is paired with a crashing sound design which captures the primal tone of Beast – perfect for a tale of societal pressures being ripped from our protagonists.

Pearce’s previously tight grip of the proceedings is loosened in the final act which attempts to craft a powerful conclusion from these primal themes. Yet, Beast attempts to raise too many new questions in this last act and previous themes are heightened to the point of absurdity – Moll and Pascal become unrestrained – a move that feels a bit like throwing everything at the film in the hope that something sticks. Nothing does. This is an unfortunate sour note for the otherwise, incredibly impressive Beast to end on.

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