BEAST, UK, 2017. Starring Jesse Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James. Directed by Michael Pearce. 107 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes, violence, coarse language, sex scenes)
Certainly, a blunt and frightening title.
This might be described as a psychological horror film, not of the blood and gore type, the sense of this is implied rather than visualised, but a study of character, of characters, of their potential for being beasts.
The setting is the island of Jersey, attractive locations of beach, cliffs, villages. But, very soon into the opening of the film, we see memorials to young women who have been killed. It seems that over the years there have been a number of abductions and murders, wariness about a serial killer. This is the background to the story of Moll (a quite intense performance by Jessie Buckley), a young woman who lives with her mother, sings in the choir which is conducted by her mother, is a tourist guide for busloads of visitors to Jersey. But, we appreciate immediately that there is quite some edge to Moll.
As we learn more about Moll, the demands made on her by her mother, a powerful performance by Geraldine James, we find that she was homeschooled after a violent incident, allegedly bullying of Moll and her response with a pair of scissors. Her mother wants to make sure that all the evil is removed from her daughter. To that end she throws a lavish party but her sister one-ups her by announcing the she is pregnant with twins. Moll is also required to babysit her brother’s daughter whom she likes but sometimes forgets as she goes out, her mother making her confess to selfishness.
She has a wild side too, going to parties and dances. But, near a cave on the beach, she is rescued from an aggressive young man by a local, Pascal (Johnny Flynn). She is immediately attracted to him. He is a handyman, poacher, has been in prison, is quite direct in talking to Moll’s mother.
The immediate drama in the story is that there was an abduction and murder on the night of Moll’s party. A local Portuguese migrant is suspected. But what about Pascal and his past? And what about Moll and her inner violence?
The director has made the point that this film is not so much an investigation into the abductions and murders, certainly the work of a killer with beastly instincts, but it is more of an investigation into the psyche of Moll, her attraction towards Pascal, whether she is suspicious of him or not, whether her love for him is dangerous because of her suspicions.
Because of this, Beast is an interesting psychological portrait of a disturbed young woman, her alienation from her family (making a toast at one stage to her family and declaring that she forgives them), her somewhat reckless love for the mysterious Pascal.
Icon Released September 13th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.