The debut of writer and director Michael Pearce, Beast, is an eerie and tormenting thriller turned romance that keeps you wondering. It leaves you feeling uneasy as you cascade through its twists and turns provided by the two excellent displays by the lead actors of Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn.
What’s it about?
Set on the island of Jersey, Beast follows the story of Moll (Jessie Buckley) and her almost forbidden romance for Pascal Renouf (Johnny Flynn). Moll lives with her strict mother while helping to care for her dad, her wishes are always suppressed and appears to be treated as a lesser to her ‘perfect’ sister and professional brother. On her birthday she runs away to go dancing and after a man sexually assaults her, she is rescued by Pascal in the early hours of the morning. He seems strange and has a rough aura about him, he takes her home and they continue to meet up and fall in love. Meanwhile, a series of murders have been taking place on the island, the most recent of which on the day Pascal found Moll. With the area shrouded in mystery, they continue to date, however, Pascal becomes one of the leading suspects in the murder case.
Moll and Pascal are two deep, very well developed characters, aided with the strong performances by Buckley and Flynn. Moll has a troubled past and it is established very early on that she is a prolific liar. She seems mentally weak and slowly becomes more and more unhinged as the drama in her life continues. She comes from a family in which she has been suppressed by her mother, made to feel guilty and treated like a child for her actions. Pascal is an orphan, also with a troubled path, who gives Moll the chance to be free. The shots never seem to focus on him keeping an air of mystery about his rough demeanour.
With the murder investigation overarching their lives, Moll remains convinced in his innocence. Conversely, you never feel that way, he’s a reserved man and doesn’t release too much information, we’re kept away from him to build tension. He becomes a character we think is guilty but the pain it causes Moll has us hope he isn’t. You never feel safe with him around, but you feel strangely lost without him.
The suspense and eerieness of Beast are maintained through almost every scene through a combination of excellent cinematography and music (or lack thereof). Each shot is dark and open, you feel alone and unsafe in the Jersey countryside. Pascal is made to make you feel uneasy by always being framed in a way that we would always see a villain, yet we want to believe he’s not. This is aided by the music, at times you are left in silence, others you are dealt with a slow subtle string number that just doesn’t make you feel safe.
False sense of security
The whole film makes you feel uneasy, the plot twists and turns, you learn more and more about our two stars and your opinion constantly changes. When you are made to feel more comfortable about Pascal, you see Moll’s character slowly descent into someone else. Her breaking free from the shackles of her home life may give you a short sense of relief but you soon learn more about her and start to question, who is this beast the title refers to?
Overall, Michael Pearce’s debut is one to be proud of, it keeps you guessing throughout the movie and leaves you with questions once you leave. Supported by excellent performances, you’re kept in an uneasy eerieness for the entirety of its runtime along with moments of real suspense that could almost make it a horror.