Do you ever feel trapped by a film? You’ve sat down to watch it, and as it goes on, you realise you’re powerless to move. You have a fair idea of where the film is dragging you, but you sit in silent protest, hoping beyond hope that the path will swerve into something less predictable. You have the power to stand up and leave, but your feet are cemented to the ground. You’re not transfixed, you’re simply dulled into submission.
That’s what Beast was like for me.
The plot is as rote as it could be. Moll (Jessie Buckley), a twenty-something woman living with her parents heads out on the town by herself on her birthday. After a night of drinking and dancing with a stranger, she is almost raped by him, only for the act to be stopped due to a blank faced bloke, Pascal (Johnny Flynn), and his gun. Before too long, Moll and Pascal are in love, against the wishes of Moll’s family. Meanwhile, there’s a spate of murders plaguing the small remote island community that they live on. Whoever could it be killing these young women?
Ambiguity is the order of the day with writer/director Michael Pearce’s feature debut. Desolate imagery litters the screen with the intention of showing that hey, we’re all isolated in this world. Sure, it looks nice, but as I’ve long mentioned – good looking cinematography is not praise worthy if there’s no substance to the actions on screen.
And what little substance there is with this basic story that’s been done before. Girl is in difficult situation, a somnambulistic bloke appears to save the day, girl falls in love with bloke, even though he doesn’t shower and is pretty darn uncouth, girl realises he’s not all that and a bag of chips after all and ends things. Roll credits. Sure, there’s only seven plots in the world, but it’s how those well worn narrative threads are utilised that counts, and sadly there’s very little within Beast that suggests it’s actually doing anything of value.
Which doesn’t mean that it’s a complete mess. Both leads, Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn, have nice chemistry and deliver solid performances. Pearce’s direction is fine, however it’s his script that provides the many oddities that kept me trapped in my seat. For the most part, this is a run of the mill drama – or what they like to call, ‘psychological thriller’ -, except for the truly odd family members that make up Moll’s family.
Moll’s mother, Hilary Huntington (Geraldine James), considers Moll her ‘best friend’ and acts as an omnipresent, ever demanding mother. That in itself is a curious affair that goes partway to explaining why Moll is the ‘outcast’ she says she is. Then there’s Moll’s police officer brother Harrison (Oliver Maltman) who may or may not want an incestuous relationship with Moll. It’s quite hard to tell thanks to Pearce’s insistence on employing ambiguity as the core way of delivering a narrative. It’s a trick that seems to be instituted into these kinds of films more often as of late – write a script that is just vague enough for viewers to think that they’ve latched onto something, in turn allowing them to possibly conjure a perceived narrative, rather than one the writer has actually constructed themselves.
These curiosity’s had me wondering whether there would be something deeper in the narrative. Yet, alongside an odd ‘anti-foreigner’ moment, these moments exist to simply confound rather than add to the greater story at play.
If there’s one saving grace for Beast, it’s that the last few minutes have a redemptive quality to them. Sure, it’s an ending that comes with little precedent, with the events of the film providing little in the way of groundwork to actually allow for the ending to payoff and carry weight. Instead, it feels like Pearce has employed the Robert McKee’s ‘wow them in the end, and you’ve got a hit’ concept. End with a satisfactory enough idea and hope to high heck that the audience doesn’t think about what lead to that point.
Look, I’m being harsh on Beast – mostly because there is promise here. Jessie Buckley reminded me of Natalie Press’ great performance in the underrated My Summer of Love. Johnny Flynn may be a bit of a blank slate, but his accent sure is interesting to listen to. It’s nice to look at, and is supremely inoffensive, you won’t have a terrible time, but you may also struggle to keep it in your mind come the end of the day. In short, it’s a wet towel of a film – it simply exists, doing little other than being ‘there’.
Director: Michael Pearce
Cast: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James
Writer: Michael Pearce