by Toby Woollaston
“You’re wounded. I can fix that.”—it is a seemingly innocuous opening line from Beast, but it speaks volumes about the film’s two central characters. Moll (played by Jessie Buckley), to whom the line is directed, has just met the mysterious Pascal (Johnny Flynn). His multilayered comment clearly points to more than just the cut on her hand.
In his debut feature, Writer/Director Michael Pearce has created a complex and vividly lush thriller that sits you bolt-upright in your seat. It is a brooding character study that investigates the hidden monsters within, borrowing from dark thrillers like Lady Macbeth and winking at classics such as Fatal Attraction.
A serial killer is on the loose in the small British island community of Jersey … a bad time for Moll to fall in love with a mysterious stranger. Moll, a sheltered young woman, is still firmly under her oppressive mother’s thumb (clinically played by Geraldine James), but the allure of Pascal is too great to resist. As the murder-mystery plays out in the periphery, Beast chooses to focus on creating, then untangling, the complex love story of Moll and Pascal. They are two flawed individuals who both wrestle with their own demons and although the machinations of the murder-mystery are ever-present, the film’s real mystery is what motivates their relationship.
Beast works best in the quieter moments of introspection and interaction between the two lovers.
The underrated Jessie Buckley (Taboo, War and Peace) is superb here. She drips with screen presence and her nuanced performance has Moll teetering on the cusp of sanity. Also of note is cinematographer Benjamin Kracun (Hyena), whose careful attention to every shot is a spellbinding feast of perfection, almost to the point of distraction.
It is a shame, then, that the film’s finale falls a little flat and an opportunity to finish on a provocatively ambiguous note is disappointingly snuffed out by Pearce’s neat and tidy ending. Nonetheless, Beast remains, for the most part, an excellent film from a talented cast and crew that are worth keeping an eye on.
See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.