Beast (2017) Film Review from the 6th Annual Chicago Critics Film Festival, a movie directed by Michael Pearce, starring Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Trystan Gravelle and Geraldine James.
Beast, the feature-length directing debut of Michael Pearce, is a British psychological thriller that was released last year overseas. It is the story of a young woman, Moll, living in an isolated community, finding herself pulled between the control of her oppressive family and the allure of a secretive outsider. In the background, a series of murders have taken place. All of the deaths show the same modus-operandi, the killer targets young women, rapes than suffocates them.
The tension is built up nicely. We start with seeing Moll (Jessie Buckley) participating in the local church choir, celebrating her birthday with her family; essentially living a “normal” life. But early on we see that she is a troubled woman. Her mother (Geraldine James) is a possessive control freak, and has groomed all of her children to dress a certain way, behave a certain way, even think a certain way. If anyone ever steps out of line, she silently glares at them, with no physical threat, just a psychological one. The pressure has clearly built up over the years for Moll, and she escapes to the local club to drink and dance. Once there, she meets a young man who later tries to force himself upon her, but she is saved by another man who is out hunting, Pascal Renouf (Johnny Flynn).
Pascal intrigues Moll. He offers her a chance at a life outside of her mothers domination. A liberated, carefree life. Moll falls in love with him, and together they move in and you think just maybe these two will make it. But quickly, the investigation into the murders turns to Pascal as the main suspect. Oddly enough, Moll’s brother, Clifford (Trystan Gravelle) is the detective assigned to the case.
The acting in the film is very well done. Buckley gives us a damaged, yet strong-willed character that we identify with (perhaps a little too closely). Johnny Flynn, to me, is the standout of the film. You want to hate Pascal, but you can’t. He seduces both Moll and the audience with his charm, independence and aloofness. Geraldine James, who I last saw in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, does a phenomenal job as Moll’s crazed mother. She oozes the desire for control, authoritarianism, and pathological narcissism.
Back to the story, Pascal is the most obvious suspect; a loner drifter who hunts, has no friends, and seems to pop up out of nowhere. Moll’s mother, Hilary, is a horrible person and one could see her slipping over the edge and killing people. Even our protagonist, Moll, is a suspect by the police throughout the investigation. We the audience see her having what may be flashbacks, nightmares, or suppressed memories that involve violent imagery. Could she be the elusive killer, and her brother Clifford won’t admit it to himself?
And this is the films greatest strength; it plays with your mind, constantly forcing you to reevaluate whom you believe to be the killer. Who is the titular “Beast”? By the final frame, I know who I want the killer to be. But sometimes we don’t want the truth, we tend to make up our own truth. Ambiguity is often lost in modern cinema, which is a shame because when done right there is nothing more effective in film.
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