A twisted tale, Beast is the debut feature from writer-director Michael Pearce starring Johnny Flynn and Jessie Buckley. Set in the picturesque Jersey, Beast follows Moll (Buckley) and her turbulent relationship with Pascal Renouf (Flynn). The duo’s relationship develops into a romantic one but soon local anxieties regarding the murders of young women encroach on their relationship when suspicions fall on Pascal.
Moll is a sheltered twenty-something woman in captivity, desperate to escape her mundane reality as a tour guide and living in a home where she is accountable to her stern mother, Hilary (Geraldine James). Moll’s freedom is stifled by Hilary who unnervingly refers to the former as her “best friend”. The glowing yellows of their outdated kitchen clash with their dark, defective relationship and here, Beast skilfully explores the toxicity of a repressive environment. The beautiful shots of Jersey mastered by cinematographer Benjamin Kračun, including vast landscapes and an endless sea stretching out into nothingness, reflect Moll’s isolation; her confinement contributes to a brewing tension that manifests in screams of frustration.
These fractured relationships with her family, her violent past transgressions, her angry community, and with Pascal, guide the narrative of Beast. Moll and Pascal’s love is dysfunctional, from screaming at one another, to distrusting one another, to a powerful infatuation; they adopt an us-against-the-world attitude in a society where rumours spread like wildfire and Moll nevertheless defends the man she loves in the face of scrutiny. They push each other, and those around them, to their limit. Together they approach the cliff edge, sometimes quite literally, tempting destruction in their wake. The reoccurring presence of broken glass mirrors this fragile yet dangerous dual nature. In Moll’s thrilling affair with Pascal, she experiences a pleasure and pain which prompts the viewer to question whether her family were right to be concerned over their relationship because as their desire deepens, it becomes unclear who has the upper hand.
The compelling use of interactions around a dinner table particularly reflect Moll’s increasingly overt defiance throughout the course of the film. The murders are first discussed by the family over the dinner table, and when Pascal joins the family for dinner he insults his hosts, to Moll’s amusement. At her sister’s birthday dinner Moll takes charge and offends her family with Pascal at her side. Later, the duo together finally confront their demons over a restaurant dinner table. The tense dinner table scene frequently used in film was cleverly employed in Beast to mark Moll’s steps from an implicit to explicit anger.
Interestingly, Beast explores various genres including drama, horror and romance. This mix was transfixing but, at times, overwhelming. The confusing change in styles meant for an interesting composition which likely requires a second viewing to fully comprehend its message. Regardless, Beast is an electrifying debut with a dynamic female lead. Buckley stand-outs in her expert portrayal of the turmoil faced by a lost young woman experiencing a toxic love that reignites the beast inside her and her quiet community.
– Connie Adams