Set in an insular, seemingly idyllic community on Jersey, Michael’s Pearce’s darkly disturbing thriller makes the very best of the claustrophobic setting. During the opening few minutes Moll (Jessie Buckley) relates a tale of killer whales being trapped in captivity and going slowly mad as they swim in endless circles, some breaking all their teeth as they try to escape. Over the course of the film we watch the human equivalent of this as tragedy unfolds.
We meet Moll at her 27th birthday party as she awkwardly makes small talk with her admirer Cliff, only to be spectacularly upstaged by her sister-who-has-it-all’s announcement of her pregnancy, with twins no less. Geraldine James, as Moll’s mother, makes matters worse by asking her to fetch the champagne from the garage following the announcement, completely ignoring the fact this overshadows her daughter’s birthday. Moll makes an escape, heading out into the night to drink and dance and eventually meet the surly, shotgun-toting Pascal.
Pascal (Johnny Flynn) is part Lady Chatterley’s Mellors and part Heathcliff, part charm and part menace, simultaneously sensual and unnerving. Moll’s family immediately close ranks as the pair grow closer, seemingly against Pascal, warning him she’s “a wild one”, while making comments about his strong odour. This stand by her family only serves to drive Moll into his arms, seeing their first kiss, a magnificently romantic cliff-top affair, make way for more animalistic pleasures and horrors.
Pascal has arrived in Moll’s life just as news of a fourth island girl going missing hits the news, a girl whose body is soon discovered on a local farm. Is this linked to Pascal? Is this something to do with Moll herself? Is it just coincidence? The film then takes us on a journey which is equal parts romance, thriller, horror and modern fairy-tale.
Cinematographer Benjamin Kracun brilliantly brings the feelings of both intimacy and claustrophobia to the screen, with extreme handheld close-ups which feel almost surreal. The shots of the Jersey countryside are by turns bleak and breath-taking, from wild seascapes to the benign, blank boxes of suburbia.
Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn and Geraldine James performances are all incredible and will make repeat viewings a must.
It is rare to be completely wrong-footed by a film, as Beast defies expectations of both narrative and genre, completely bold in every choice it makes. Every character’s motivation remains hidden but rings entirely true, making the ending all the more unsettling. Beast plays magnificently on ideas of the civilised and the wild, as the audience will be hard pressed to pin point who the titular character really is.
9.5 out of 10