Beast, the first feature from writer and director Michael Pearce, is deceptively manipulative. From the trailer to final moments of the movie, you think you’ve got its number. But you don’t. That’s the point of manipulation.
I watched this movie two days ago, and my initial notes included “Groan-worthy ending after a riveting first half” and “A lot of missed opportunities.” The frequency with which I’ve returned to considering this film has me thinking I don’t know what I was thinking. And for that, I’m annoyed. But, again, on the topic of manipulation—it’s annoying once you realize it’s happened to you.
Pearce’s Beast slowly unfolds the story of Moll (Jessie Buckley), a quiet-seeming girl from a proper family, who desires to be seen but is often overlooked. Or, more than overlooked, she’s intentionally unseen. An early scene in Beast shows Moll at her own birthday party, overshadowed by her sister’s announcement of twins. In a way that reminds me of Rachel Getting Married, everyone is delicately dancing around something dark. And the first glimpse at that darkness comes as Moll downs a drink alone in the kitchen, accidentally breaks the glass, then cleans it up, crushing the shattered glass within her palm in release…or ecstasy.
That darkness continues throughout. Moll falls in love with a seedy townie, Pascal (Johnny Flynn) who illegally hunts rabbits, irks Moll’s uppity family…oh, and is a suspect in a string of grisly rape/murder cases that have been plaguing the town.
The trailer for Beast makes it seem like a horror movie, but it’s more of the fraught, psychological drama ilk. The kind that has you saying I know where this is going, but that revels in the revelation that you’re wrong. Really lets you sit in it. There’s a moment where it turns, like Moll, drunk on the dance floor, and you realize this is more like a spiritual prequel to Natural Born Killers or Wild at Heart, where a frenzied, unbridled freedom seeks its own, but it’s too untamed to bear. The film is a balancing act between rooting for freedom and seeing that freedom hit a tipping point into something disturbing. What does it mean to be a good person. What does it mean to be loved. And how is love interpreted.
Pearce places this story of bizarre humanity against natural scenery, invoking a sense of innate wildness but reminding us that we are separate from the wilderness that surrounds us. We are human. We are bound by social mores—civility and culture. Stray too far, and you’ll fall off the edge.
Best, most fraught quote: “And so from the deepest part of who I am, I accept you. I won’t give up on you, not for them. Not for anything you’ve done. I’m prepared to give you all of my love, as deep and as powerful as a human can give another human.”
See this movie if you:
Like to feel uncomfortable.
Enjoy looking at a rugged, handsome man featured against a beautiful backdrop of the British Isles.
Are ready for another story about a woman with mental illness that nobody, literally nobody, is helping.