Starring Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James
This movie opens with stunning oceans views and beautiful scenery, but viewers will quickly sense the foreboding dread they likely paid for. This isn’t a beauty and the beast story. New filmmaker Michael Pearce explores romance, horror, manipulation and mental illness in a film that feels like Twilight’s cousin. The moody scenery of France’s Chanel Islands is the perfect beautiful contrast to the deadly events happening in this story. The plot twists keep the audience wondering which character the title refers to. However, despite Pearce’s creativity, the story telling is often better than the story itself. Much the same way recent indie flick Lady MacBeth avoids genre stereotypes, Beast can’t be singularly classified.
Moll Huntington (Jessie Buckley) has a history of violence, “a wild one,” her sister defines. One of Moll’s responsibilities is to care for her ailing father. Hillary (Geraldine James), the matriarch of the wealthy Huntington family, runs the household with an iron fist, especially where Moll in concerned. Things begin to spiral out of control when Moll meets local hunter Pascal Renouf (Johnny Flynn). Their meeting comes at time when young girls are disappearing across the island. The police have the mysterious Renouf down as one of their suspects, but no evidence to charge him. Looking for any reason to escape her family, Moll runs off with the blonde, bearded Renouf only to find her new situation just as difficult.
The story telling is often better than the story itself.
If you removed all the thriller and horror elements from Beast you would have one of 2018’s most visually stunning movies. Beast could make an excellent tourism ad for the Chanel Islands. Unfortunately, Pearce’s cast of characters suggests the entire island of Jersey is inhabited by the dysfunctional. There is no grace or dignity in any of his characters, and we rarely meet anyone on this journey that feels normal. Also, there is an unusual number of visual elements involving mud and alcohol.
It’s the rhythm of the story that Pearce fails to work out. Some scenes are so well put together while others are shot so drastically, they often feel like two separate films. Imagine listening to classical music that is periodically abruptly interrupted by rap music. The performances from both Buckley, mostly known for her television work, and Flynn (Clouds of Sils Maria) are certainly strong and far above what might be expected from a run-of-the-mill horror flick. Beast offers some twists and turns that will keep the audience engaged, but the ending is both wildly unpredictable and has a final shot that still leaves me puzzled as to why it was included.
Beast is a stunning movie to look at; even if its narrative constantly goes over the cliffs.