Writer: Michael Pearce
Cast: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James, Trystan Gravelle, Shannon Tarbet
Running Time: 107 minutes
What’s the story: On a remote island, twenty-something Moll Huntford (Buckley) is haunted by a past random act of violence that puts her at odds with her family. The answer to Moll’s woes may be sun-bleached handyman and part-time poacher Pascal (Flynn). The only snag is, he may be responsible for a spate of sex murders in their isolated community.
What’s the verdict: It’s D.H Lawrence with serial killers as Moll, the ingénue with more than a touch of the vapours, is seduced by bohemian bit-of-rough Pascal. Writer/director Michael Pearce’s first feature recalls a nature-versus-nurture clash of the type last seen in an A-Level English lesson.
Beast does attempt to be more than this… and nearly succeeds. A look at how close civilised behaviour and the primal co-exist in modern life, and the damning costs of stepping out against society, the film explores what it means to live at one with your true self.
In her first cinematic leading role, Buckley (also seen in Tom Hardy’s Taboo) gives her all to a film that carries strong central themes, yet is ultimately let down by an average script.
The best thing in it, Buckley (all flame-haired and damaged angst) impressively transforms from outward civility to something far baser. Channelling urges opposed to her genteel surroundings, the result is a horrifying portrayal of a character who revels in the freedom of accepting her own nature, while teetering on the brink of something else entirely.
All good, but it’s a shame the supporting cast aren’t quite there with her.
As Pascal, Flynn relies on a strong, silent-type charisma that initially suggests he may shape up as a formidable antagonist. Sadly, due to an underwritten character this eventually morphs into a caricature of the country stereotype; he mostly comes across as stupid.
With little to work with, Flynn is not up to the challenge of matching Buckley’s dramatic heights.
Gravelle is similarly afflicted as Moll’s brother Harrison, bad lines contributing to a performance that triggers memories of Midsomer Murders rather than belonging in a taut Film 4 thriller. Thankfully the presence of Geraldine James, who shines as the poisonous matriarch, and Shannon Tarbet as a bitchy sister add quality, if under-developed, support.
Where Beast roars is in the sound design. Rarely has gunfire sounded so visceral, while unnerving soundscapes rumble every time Moll gets a hint of her true character.
Equally impressive is the cinematography. Jersey (not a usual location choice largely due to exorbitant tax costs) looks appropriately picturesque and ethereal. There are scenic (if obvious) parallels between the immaculate country gardens of Moll’s conformist hell and the rugged coastal landscapes that reflect her descent into primal scream territory.
Ultimately however this is not enough to stop Beast often feeling like a novice attempt. A great film is trying to get out here, but sadly doesn’t quite make it on this occasion.