Review: Beast (2017/18)

beast

Impassive and impassioned: Agile Films/BFI

BEAST is just my jam. It’s a dark – bleak even – horror-mystery set in a far-flung and beautiful corner of the UK. It’s also a family drama where the family doesn’t enter into it much, because our lead would rather not have anything to do with a clan who will never understand or accept her for who she is.

On the picturesque and isolated Isle of Jersey, Moll (Jessie Buckley) struggles with people, especially her wealthy and propriety-obsessed family. When she finally makes a connection with a charming stranger she meets after a night of clubbing, Moll sees her life turn around and fill with passion and excitement. But Pascal’s (Johnny Flynn) arrival also coincides with a series of grisly murders that are keeping islanders watching over their shoulders, and the police hot on the heels of a prime suspect…

There’s a long line of characters in fiction called Mal, or Moll as a derivation or thematic link to malice/evil. Beast’s Moll isn’t evil, but she does demonstrate at least a level of sociopathy that only grows more dominant with the passage of time. She just doesn’t get people, and people don’t get her. They see her as little more than an animal with a (documented) history of lashing out, something to keep one eye on and to always be wary of. When she finds someone who finally does seem to understand her, an apparent kindred spirit regarded with equal suspicion by her community, of course she leaps to his defence. It’s really a testament to Buckley’s growth as an actor that she is able to convey Moll’s internal conflict so succinctly, with few words and telling actions and to Flynn’s credit that he’s so effortlessly beguiling an enigma.

I think this film will really resonate with people who know anybody prone to “acting up” on a regular basis. Moll’s mental illness and skewed view on the world is deep-rooted and multi-faceted, though the hostile, ostracising behaviour of her snobby family can’t help matters. We’re used to seeing Geraldine James playing such nice, dignified women, but as mum Hilary she’s absolutely ghastly. She may not have provoked the incident that caused Moll to become an outcast but her brand of tough love and her obsession with family appearances did not help Moll to get over her trauma or make meaningful human connections.

Not everything is answered and every potential answer as to what has really been happening on the island is some shade of disturbing. I’m inclined to lean towards the darkest, most twisted explanation for everything that has occurred. This isn’t one for those who abhor ambiguity; it’s one of those films that ends on a character giving the camera an unreadable look before cutting to black.

Ambiguity is Beast’s main weapon. It works because of the uncertainty. Moll sticks by Pascal because she can’t be certain he’s a killer. Or maybe it’s because the chance that he might be means he could be her screwed-up soulmate. She tries several times to get him to admit it and you don’t get the impression she’d abandon him if he did. The fact that he doesn’t either means that he isn’t, that he is but he doesn’t want to confess, or perhaps that he knows who the killer is and doesn’t want her to know.

I personally can’t wait to see what director Michael Pearce does next, whether he’ll further delve into this dark and twisted corner of human nature, whether he will again discuss what alienation does to a person or whether he’ll make something more cheerful. Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn I’m sure will keep making interesting choices and could both be stars in the making. Watch for these faces, and watch Beast if you haven’t already. It’ll stay with you. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Bong Joon-ho, Danny Boyle, the Coen Brothers, Nicolas Winding Refn, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Taika Waititi and Edgar Wright. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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2 Responses to Review: Beast (2017/18)

  1. Pingback: Looking Back and Looking Forward: 2018, Part 1 | SSP Thinks Film

  2. Pingback: Review: Wild Rose (2018/19) | SSP Thinks Film

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