Beast (Pearce, 2017)

I liked the idea of Beast more than the execution, which is on the over-stylised side for my taste. All the moody lighting and portentous music distracts from the visceral darkness of the story, and the way it plumbs the unknown recesses of human nature. That aspect holds up: Moll’s lifelong traumas and her confusion over the agency of her actions; Pascal’s inscrutable motives; the sheer brutality of the murders committed on the island, and the terror they invoke in the local residents to the point where scapegoating is inevitable. Some things are mined better than others, one example being Moll’s relationship with her ailing father, which is left a blank canvas. Her history with the girl she attacked in her childhood is also given a short shrift, apart from a basic outline. But, more often than not, we have a really solid psychological thriller here, that is the right amounts of disturbing and salaciously entertaining. It’s almost impossible not to follow Moll’s trajectory with a rapt attention and a hope that her shitty circumstances will get markedly better.

Pearce is the only one holding things back, as he frequently attempts to incorporate some surrealist elements to little effect. One memorable moment is Moll’s nightmare of being attacked by a cloaked figure, and then discovering that she is the attacker (and that the girl being attacked is someone else entirely). It happens once, which is fine; it gives us a sense of her growing instability and lingering guilt. But then Pearce repeats the moment again later in the film, and doesn’t do much to change things up. We know by that point that Moll’s mental state is in turmoil, so what does repeating this nightmare add, other than a gratuitous scene of a vulnerable woman being tormented? In general, I feel Pearce just overextends himself in trying to separate from the pack, and his choices weigh down the film rather than lift it up. A film like this could’ve popped with a more elegant approach, keeping things stark without losing the sinister edge that both Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn bring to this through their fantastic performances. Instead, we get some coloured filters and a telegraphed ominousness that makes it just a tad too taxing on the patience than it ought to be.