★★ / ★★★★
“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.
Song One (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
Franny (Anne Hathaway), who is working on her Ph.D. in Anthropology overseas, receives news that her singer-songwriter brother, Henry (Ben Rosenfield), had been involved in an accident. He is in a coma and there is a possibility that he may never regain consciousness. Guilt-ridden from their last fight and feeling helpless about the situation, Franny retraces Henry’s steps using his notebook which is full of lyrics, thoughts, and favorite places to visit.
The problem with “Song One,” written and directed by Kate Barker-Froyland, is its tonal inertness. Ninety minutes is composed of taking turns between a woman looking sadly at her comatose brother and live performances by James Forester (Johnny Flynn), an artist that Henry admires greatly. The picture does not go anywhere for a long time and halfway through one cannot help but wonder two things: who is the audience and what is the point of telling this story because it offers nothing special.
Hathaway almost singlehandedly saves the film. Even though her character is somewhat one-dimensional, I enjoyed her commitment. The pixie haircut works to her advantage because her features are all the more salient—particularly helpful during close-ups in which she is required to summon and express every minute emotion of confusion, rage, regret, and helplessness. There are moments when she does not speak a word and yet I was engaged. I wondered what the character is thinking or feeling, whether the smile drawn on her face is genuine or a convincing front. I felt the strength of Franny.
Less intriguing is the romance that develops between James and Franny. It is predictable from a mile a way that the two will eventually fall for one another. The material takes a long time to get to that destination and when we get there, it comes across anticlimactic. The picture might have been stronger if the romantic angle had been excised altogether and focused on the family that is barely standing on its feet.
Worth exploring further is the relationship between Franny and her mother (Mary Steenburgen). When the two are in the same shot, there is tension; the silence is almost deafening because we understand that they need to talk about what is on their minds. We grow suspicious as to when and where the eruption will take place.
Generally, the songs in “Song One” are hit-or-miss. Although the various performances that Franny comes across during her lamentation do have obvious talent in them, the songs, collectively, reflect that of the picture: tonally flat, almost always sad, unpolished, quirky. These are not all negative qualities but we grow to expect these traits eventually and so a passive experience is created.