A small British film set on the Isle of Jersey, Beast is a movie that I’ve noticed has had some great reviews; but will likely have been missed by many due to its lack of promotion and limited number of showings. It’s unfortunate because, in my opinion, Beast is one of the best films to have been released so far this year.
27 year old Moll (Jesse Buckley, ‘War and Peace’) lives at home with her father, who has Alzheimer’s, and Hilary (Geraldine James, ‘Sherlock Holmes’), her psychologically abusive mother. After being upstaged at her own birthday party by one of her family members, Moll decides to leave; and so heads out to a nightclub. The next morning she finds herself in a dangerous situation; but in true fairytale style the rugged Pascal (Johnny Flynn, ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’) becomes her knight in shining armour, coming to the rescue of the damsel in distress. A relationship develops between the couple, much to the disapproval of Moll’s family. Moll’s feelings for Pascal are somewhat compromised however, when he becomes the prime suspect of a series of local child murders.
Knowing very little about this movie beforehand, I truly had no idea what to expect. In the end, what I got was a psychological thriller, with elements of romance and even some aspects of horror mixed in too. I loved the way these genres were blended together so perfectly to create a drama that had me on the edge of my seat for the majority of the film.
It amazes me how often I find myself praising filmmakers for their directorial debuts. There are so many incredible young talents working in the industry today. Beast is the first feature film directed (and written) by Michael Pearce. From both a directorial and writing perspective I thought Pearce hit it out of the park. The way he told this story, keeping the audience continually guessing was masterful. He also threw in so many little clues that kept us second guessing who indeed the titular ‘beast’ was. Was it Pascal? Was it Moll? Was it somebody else? It’s up to you to work that out for yourself.
I have to praise the cinematographer, Benjamin Kracun (For Those in Peril), for using Jersey’s natural lighting and locations so beautifully. The stark contrast between the stunning visuals and the horrific plot worked brilliantly as a way of unsettling the audience. In addition, the score by Jim Williams, (Raw), added so much to the tension of the film. So often with horrors/thrillers the soundscape plays such a major role in creating a certain atmosphere which sends people to the edge of their seats. That’s exactly what Williams’ score did to me. He nailed this.
In terms of the acting, I don’t know if I can speak highly enough about Jesse Buckley’s performance; which if it does not receive a BAFTA nomination I’ll be furious. In 2008, Buckley controversially finished as the runner-up to Jodie Prenger on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s singing completion, ‘I’d Do Anything’ – a show where the winner earned the role of Nancy in Lord Webber’s new production of the musical ‘Oliver!’. Incidentally, Samantha Barks (who brilliantly played Eponine in the 2012 movie version of ‘Les Miserables’) finished 3rd on this show. I actually had money on her to win it. Despite failing to win the show and land the role, Buckley went on to be a huge success on the stage anyway; and has also appeared on TV in ‘War and Peace’ and ‘Taboo’. Beast is her first feature film role however, and going by this performance it certainly won’t be her last. Everything about her performance wowed me. From the sweet innocent girl she appears to be at the start of the movie, to the primal, animalistic wreck she becomes later on, she just conveys every aspect of the character so naturally. It’s going to take something extraordinary to knock her off the top spot of my leading actresses of the year list.
Another great performance came from Geraldine James, whose words, as Hilary, cut like a knife through the heart of Moll. Although she may appear to be a prim and proper lady, the way she treats her daughter is horrible. Although we come to learn why she says some of the nasty things she says; the way she uses something that happened when Moll was younger to psychologically abuse her is outrageous. I hated that character so much, which was largely down to the way James expertly played the part.
Johnny Flynn was pretty good as the leading male of the movie; however, next to the incredible performances of Buckley and James, I did think he paled in comparison. Had his performance come even close to matching up to that of Buckley’s I’d probably have rated Beast 10/10. It’s the only reason I can think of not to give Beast a perfect score.
Unfortunately, Beast’s run in cinemas is coming to an end. There may be a few cinemas still showing it, but even if there are it won’t be out for much longer. Whether you can find a cinema where it’s still playing, or you have to wait for it to be released on DVD, I implore you to check it out! If this isn’t in my top 10 films at the end of the film year, I’ll be shocked.