STARS: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn
DIRECTOR: Michael Pearce
It's in there. That beast. In all of us, I suppose, and could rear its fangs at any moment given the right set of circumstances--or in this case the right person--to bring it to the fore. And as I write this I'm idly channel surfing and happen to land on the cheesy looking monster from An American Werewolf In London wreaking havoc on the rent-a-crowd of movie extras running screaming through the streets.
What we're dealing with in Beast is a subtler kind of demon that inhabits the bodies of Moll (Jessie Buckley), a 27 year-old living at home with her family--a timid girl by outward appearances--and her boyfriend Pascal (Johnny Flynn), a hunter and illegal poacher of small animals who, with his haunted eyes, looks the part from the get-go.
Teenage girls are being murdered on their English Channel island of Jersey, and Pascal becomes a suspect. Maybe it's because serial killers often start with animals. Or that he just seems strange and walks around looking menacing with a rifle for half the movie. But as Beast incrementally reveals more of who Moll is, we start to suspect that yeah, she just might have that in her too. (There was that attack with a pair of scissors on one of her young peers that she claims was in self defense.) They are kindred spirits, these two, and a passionate romance between deeply screwed up people is always fascinating to watch. Moll is like a Hawaiian volcano always on the verge of erupting, and in fact she does literally blow chunks in one of the film's did-we-really-need-to-see-that moments. That and a scene of animal cruelty that is gratuitously graphic might make you question first time writer/director Michael Pierce's judgement.
But the reason to see Beast lies with Jessie Buckley. This is her movie, and she has the acting chops to bring off this controlled burn performance in a way that foreshadows some blazing fireworks at the end. And if that's your thing, you're in for the full 4th Of July treatment.
A couple of reviews ago, I remember writing that I didn't like unclear endings, that too much thinking gave me hives. (Disobedience) Well this who-done-it left me, my movie buddy and the man walking in front of us, as we left the theater, in disagreement about who the killer was. But really, that isn't the point of Beast. Tim summed it up beautifully when he wrote 'a passionate romance between deeply screwed-up people.' For anyone who thinks they're in a dysfunctional relationship, this movie will make you feel much better!
The actress who plays the female lead is breathtakingly good. I looked her up on IMDb and got a kick out of her journey to cinematic stardom. And I quote: "Jessie Buckley is an Irish singer and actress, who came in second place in the BBC talent show-themed television series "I'd Do Anything." It kind of reminded me of Jennifer Hudson's success after coming in seventh in ABC's "American Idol." She went on to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her stunning performance in Dreamgirls. (2007) I'd love the same fate to befall Jessie Buckley.
But Beast isn't a flick for the faint of heart. Lots of violence, lots of tension. And a mother that would drive any sensitive young girl to the brink of madness. Or at least into the arms of an equally unstable boyfriend. For all their scenes of sensuality, nobody took off any clothes. This irked my male companion. And I must admit he has point. After all, nothing else seemed off limits to this demented duo. Why such modesty in the sack?
I'm torn about grading Beast. It was an unsettling film and there were a few slow moments where my eyelids got heavy. I still don't know who the killer was. But the weirdness of the story, the haunting cinematography, the originality of the script deserve high marks.