In Review: Beast
Director: Michael Pearce
Jessie Buckley shines in Michael Pearce’s atmospheric but flawed psychological thriller Beast.
There’s an enormous amount to admire about this gruesome, chilling and evocative crime drama set on the island of Jersey. It’s an astonishing debut from first-time feature director Michael Pearce and the cast are excellent and refreshingly not comprised of the same familiar faces one might expect to see in your average British indy. The cinematography from Benjamin Kracun is detailed and compelling, the production design awash with a bold, vibrant colour palette and the writer/director displays a confident and unique grasp of pacing and visual storytelling. Lots of ticks, plus points, merit badges and gold stars to Mr. Pearce for this. But (and there is a but), as is often the case with a great many first time writer/ directors, the film runs into slightly problematic narrative territory in the final act which, despite a delicious and deliberate ambiguity as to who the titular ‘Beast’ actually is, makes the somewhat clunky dénouement of the film feel unsatisfying and awkward.
Rising star Jessie Buckley (The Woman In White, War & Peace) plays Moll, the anti-heroine frustrated by the banality and vanilla conventions of her family life on ‘the island’ of Jersey. A succession of grizzly sexually-aggravated murders have only escalated tensions in the area and increased the patronising matriarchal dominance of Moll’s overbearing mother Hilary, played with a smiling, tight-lipped, domestic vitriol by Geraldine James (Sherlock Holmes, Calendar Girls). Moll’s home life of dull engagement parties and caring for her dementia- ridden Father contrasts beautifully with the glorious, sweeping vistas and crashing waves of the outside world; a world which she is able to fully embrace by way of a chance meeting with Johnny Flynn’s (Genius, Lovesick) enigmatic and troubled loner Pascal. Moll’s relationship with this gun-wielding bad boy does more than raise a few local eyebrows and as Pascal becomes a suspect in the ongoing murder enquiry, Moll suddenly finds herself thrust into a chaotic world of suspicion, excitement, obsession and paranoia.
The character detail and central relationship between Moll and Pascal are beautifully defined and more complex than a lot of character-driven psychological dramas to be released of late. The power dynamic wheels and shifts dangerously between them, never allowing us to make definite decisions about these two conflicted and complicated young people; instead allowing us to feel both sympathy and disdain for these flawed characters throughout the majority of the film. The film’s sense of intimacy is hugely to its credit, giving us a sensory adventure through muddy forests, sea-salt soaked hair and meadows of fragrant flowers, all wonderfully evocative and visceral in allowing us a delicate insight into a tragic-love story. Moll and Pascal feel very human and, much like the environment, we find them in, deep and rich in colour, both of them still ravaged by their respective emotional histories yet equally desperate to start afresh.
The conclusion to the film does leave some narrative threads unsown, some ideas unresolved and unfortunately there are a few open goals missed (plot-wise, anyway). But despite these reservations, Beast is a compelling and laudable debut film, with standout central performances and excellent work from all involved. I very much look forward to seeing what Mr Pearce does next. JW