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Beast (dir. Pearce)

Image: Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn as the heated lovers in Beast [Source: IMDB]

★★★★☆

In an isolated community, a rebellious and troubled young woman finds herself torn between her manipulative family and the allure of love between her and a roguish outsider. At the height of a terror of serial killings that have swept the small island, this young woman’s lover is accused as a suspect, sending her and the town into a frenzy.

Director: Michael Pearce. Starring: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James [15]

“Do you think he saw it at our cinema and was inspired?” says the creepy former cinema operator in Zodiac when talking about 1932 horror classic The Most Dangerous Game. I asked a similar question about this film. But while it has loose inspirations from The Most Dangerous Game, it is its own beast, with some nods here and there to the horror classic. Ultimately it is a warped yet insightful comment on relationships and our animalistic brains.

It’s clear to see the focus to details in script, character and dialogue. The film takes great care in layering the film with on the nose suggestions to animalistic themes. We slowly see the descent of Moll from her oppressive civilised institution to her barbaric earthy hidden self. The Institutional oppression or lack of success is a key theme for many horror films and so too does Beast echo this with its choir symphonies and the ruthless attitude of the police force. There is a character that is brought in as part of the police investigation that exemplifies both but twists the motif on its head and the alluring love life with a suspected serial killer humorously seems to be the saner side. It’s the anxiety around trusted institutions of social circles, the police force and family being morphed into these Gothic Horror-esque characters, that bring a spine-tingling tension. However, the focus of the story makes polar shifts and makes the tone quite uneven in parts. Sometimes venturing more into a dramatic romantic tale, with very little detail into the investigation/murders that adds a lack of story to that part of the film.

That is not to say it forgets what it is, quite the opposite, the heated passion of these two lovers is constantly smeared with an uncompromising pressure. Words and glances seem to echo as you question their meaning, this is made insurmountable by the staggeringly possessive performance from Jessie Buckley. A deeply complex and often outright absolutely confusing portrayal but ultimately an all-encompassing character that will have you hanging off her every word. Johnny Flynn plays his part in contrast, reserved, secretive and less showy but still just as powerful if not for a few dry deliveries here and there. This film really belongs to the two of them, adding an uncertain nature to their relationship and the outcome of events, they are integral to keeping the plot as nail-biting as it is.

While much of these characters and the story itself breaths an air of predictability, the film does a marvellous job keeping you on your toes. Echoing the anxious, erratic characters, so too does its plot possess these qualities. Shifting between passionate warped romance and gothic horror murder mystery can be quite unsettling but evidently, that is the desired effect. Sharp, direct and yet subtle, Beast controls its audience and characters with a haunting clarity and while it’s ending seems somewhat rushed and flat it still bears interest and discussion. Making Beast an absolutely exhilarating primal rush from start to finish, an astonishing directorial debut.

 

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