In his feature film debut, Michael Pearce crosses a romance with a whodunit to create a haunting thriller. Beast seems at first to refer to a mysterious murderer troubling an isolated community in Jersey, but as details emerge about the multifaceted characters at play, the title takes on a more mythical dimension. Its understated central performances hide a black, twisted heart beneath the idyllic Channel scenery.
The film follows Moll (Jessie Buckley), an insecure young woman living with her overbearing family, as an impulsive night leads her to secretive poacher Pascal (Johnny Flynn). However, when a local girl is found murdered a year after the last unsolved case – with Pascal as a suspect – the troubles of Moll’s past and present begin to collide.
Both Buckley and Flynn may be best known for playing sweet, socially awkward characters (see the BBC’s 2016 War and Peace and Netflix’s Lovesick, respectively), but here their lovable personas are warped by unsettling increments. Buckley, in a particularly brave performance, allows a disturbing vulnerability to surface as Moll’s life and mind become more and more contradictory.
The cinematography and editing – some with handheld cameras – work together to place the viewers in the thick of some scenes and as uncomfortable voyeurs in others. When plot points and character choices become disconcertingly incongruous, the tight plotting and minimal sound design enhance this feeling of watching – or being watched. On the whole, however, the most compelling and conflicted elements of this dark tale rest on the capable shoulders of its leads.
A slow-burning thriller that strikes with brutality, Beast will stick in the mind long after the credits roll. Though the mystery reveals itself the moment before it could, extraordinarily restrained pacing, a tantalising merge between imagination and reality, and Buckley’s and Flynn’s engrossing performances make this tale truly beastly.
CAST: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James, Trystan Gravelle
DIRECTOR: Michael Pearce
WRITER: Michael Pearce
SYNOPSIS: A troubled young woman is attracted to a solitary poacher, much to the chagrin of her controlling family. As they develop a connection, a string of unsolved murders across Jersey puts both young people in an uncomfortable spotlight.