Beast review Jessie BuckleyYear: 2018
Director(s): Michael Pearce
Writer(s): Michael Pearce
Region of Origin: UK

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 107 mins

Synopsis: A troubled woman living in an isolated community finds herself pulled between the control of her oppressive family and the allure of a secretive outsider suspected of a series of brutal murders. (Source)

No matter who we are, or where we come from, we all wrestle with conflicting urges and instincts. At base level, Michael Pearce’s riveting Beast is about waking the darkness within. Everyone has their own triggers, and there’s only so much we can bend before breaking. But where do we draw the line, and what keeps us at bay? Pearce’s effort is intimate, transcending genre and expectation. It never holds back, yet is brimming with delicacy. Stars Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn are also impossible to look away from, delivering passionate performances that terrify and magnetize. Horror, romance, psychological angst collide to make a combustible portrait of what it means to be honest and open with ourselves.

Moll (Jessie Buckley) is marked by a past trauma and carves out an insignificant existence in the small island of Jersey. She’s a tour guide, has a mother who won’t let her out of her sight, and takes care of a father who’s slowly sinking into dementia. Suffocating from circumstance, she longs for more. During her own birthday party, Moll escapes into town and goes dancing. One thing leads to another, and as she parties into dawn, events lead her to a mysterious man named Pascal (Johnny Flynn). Seemingly saving Moll from a dubious situation, Pascal is unrefined, to say the least, but has a rebellious quality that Moll can’t resist. As they two begin to know each other, Moll begins to find a strength she didn’t know she had. Though Moll is invigorated with her relationship, her family worries about her safety, given that there’s a serial killer on the loose on their small island. Still, Moll and Pascal begin to thrive, forming an unbreakable bond that’s hurtling toward a surprising fate.

In a really beautiful way, Moll’s journey and Pearce’s approach are a mirror to one another. Just like Moll, the film is a potent synergy of disparate ideas and genres, shifting as Moll learns to open up to her repressed feelings to face her true self. Using dense atmosphere and surreal imagery, Pearce creates a headspace as much as he does a narrative, rendering self-discovery through sexual and psychological awakening. Amidst all of this, the serial killer subplot creates a fascinating query about what each of us is capable of, contrasting Moll and Pascal in ways that we can’t expect. With its clever procedural element and mounting mystery, Moll and Pascal’s relationship creates an urgent anchor for Pearce’s small town microcosm. Not just a coming-of-age drama or murder mystery, the film never bows to what we guess, making its final act a truly chilling one.

Beast review Jessie Buckley Johnny FlynnIn terms of performances, Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn are perfect together. The story’s complexity wouldn’t be anywhere without these two performers, and together, both actors are unforgettable. Buckley’s Moll is the film’s soul. It’s entire essence relies on her unwitting transformation, at first fodder for an overbearing mother before finding her own two feet. Buckley treads a fine line between charming and frightening, evoking an innocence and torment that are inextricable and wholly genuine. Opposite, Flynn’s Pascal is irresistible. There’s always something slightly unsettling about him, but he’s just so charismatic that we refuse to see past this. Needless to say, Flynn is brilliant, giving Buckley someone to really bounce off of and wading us further into a path that we’re not quite ready for. Special shoutout to Geraldine James, who leaves a striking impression as Moll’s demanding mother Hilary.

Beast beautifully dissects identity, rebellion, femininity and inner truth through a nightmarish fairy tale. It lulls us into submission, then strikes when we aren’t looking. With an empowering fight for liberation at its core, Pearce’s portrait of one woman rising against a lifetime of psychological and circumstantial torment is sobering and mandatory. By all accounts, this is one of the year’s most original horror films, focusing on the innate darkness deep below, the kind that waits patiently, insidiously biding its time for the right moment to come out and play.

SG