Beast (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

“Beast,” written and directed by Michael Pearce, is an interesting hybrid of romance and murder mystery, but it is not a thoroughly engaging psychological piece because the way it is shot gets in the way of telling the story raw and unflinching. Take any individual scene and notice its stylistic flourishes, from the way it is photographed, the calculated acting, and the manner in which the camera moves. Nearly everything is so planned out that we never forget we are watching a movie. The lyricism that courses throughout its the images and the feelings it evokes functions like filter—an incorrect approach because the central couple, particularly the darkness living inside them, demands to be understood without restraint.

Moll and Pascal are played by Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn, respectively, and they share strong chemistry. Physically, they look good together and there are a handful of instances when we are convinced of the romance simply by the two of them looking into one another’s eyes. But the fluctuating screenplay, especially when it is demanded that one of them raises his or her voice suddenly, does not work. It disturbs the relaxed chemistry built by the two performers and the material moves toward the territory of soap opera. One cannot help but wonder that this weakness could be attributed to the fact that it is the writer-director’s first foray into helming a full feature film.

The main question is whether Pascal is the one responsible for the series of murders involving underaged girls that have taken place on the island. Those well-versed in murder mysteries are certain to recognize the classic clues, even subtle ones, that are designed underline the mysterious stranger’s guilt. I enjoyed that the material is seemingly aware of the tropes and so it leaves enough room for us to doubt, that perhaps the many signs are simply red herrings meant to distract. Is it possible that the killer is simply a random stranger that just so happen to be visiting the island?

Intriguingly, the screenplay demands for the viewer to consider Moll as a suspect as well, even though we see the story through her eyes, because of her violent altercation with a schoolmate. Early scenes suggest she is a deeply disturbed young woman, brought up in a home that demands to control every aspect of her life, that she is left with barely any breathing room to be young, free, and spontaneous.

Buckley fits the role like a leather glove; she can look vulnerable and threatening at the same time. It is most unfortunate that the supporting characters, particularly Moll’s family, are so one-dimensional, these people fail to function as mirrors that reflect who Moll is outside of her extreme emotions, blackouts, and tendency to hurt herself or run away. Clearly, in order for the material to work, whether it be a mishmash of genres or otherwise, the drama must be established in a clear, concise, and convincing manner. Here, we never get past curious behavior.

Most beautiful to me is in the way it showcases the story’s animalistic themes. Look at the way Moll and Pascal make love, how they dance, how they wrestle, how they play. Notice how their body language collapses when surrounded by proud trees and verdant meadows. Pay attention to the lack of words shared between the two during deeply intimate moments. Its images are quite strong that at times I considered that perhaps the project might have worked better as a silent film.

5 replies »

  1. I think just about everything you mentioned as working, worked quite powerfully actually. And via the dialogue there was tremendous discovery of narratives, motivations, signals, etc.

    I don’t think it would have worked as a silent film at all.

    And I loooooooved how dangerous and off the hinges the entire experience played out.

    I will say that, yes I was aware I was watching a movie but I actually think that is what I/we as an audience bring to films, with our overexposure to everything media/digital. Here I didn’t see that as a failure on the filmmaker’s part but in my habits as a viewer. There is the occasional film that makes me forget but nothing’s missing if I don’t, if done well. For me.

    I.e. Suspiria and Destroyer where the best films I saw this year, I absolutely loved both. Now obsessed with each now. But I never forgot in either experience that this was a vehicle of entertainment, didn’t have to. I just want to be surprised and deeply entertained.

    • I guess it’s a matter of taste. For a relatively small film that deals with personal issues, the hyperbolic approach from behind the camera (including some instances of acting), took me out a bit too much which reminds me even more than I was watching a movie. At least with soap operas, they’re not trying to come off as profound or poetic. It wasn’t a terrible experience, but it’s not one I’d want to go through again.

      I have yet to see “Suspiria” and “Destroyer.” I kept missing the former. I meant to because of Guadagnino. As you probably know, I loved what he did with “Call Me By Your Name.” I’m interested in how he helms a horror film.

      • Yes, probably a matter of taste. Lol.

        But Mr. Guadagnino is really talented, I am beyond impressed, and I’m not one for horror!! Lol. But I LOVED it.

        But don’t miss Destroyer either. They’re very different but both stand outs.

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