It's by no means perfect, but Michael Pearce's feature-length debut certainly provides the necessary thrills. Watch out for this cast in the future.
If you happened to mention to someone that you were heading off to the cinema this week they wouldn’t be wrong to assume you were about to witness the spectacular thrill ride that is Avengers: Infinity War. However, beneath the surface of this week’s Marvel domination is a little film called Beast, the feature-length debut and serial-killer thriller from British director Michael Pearce that premiered back in 2017 at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The island of Jersey provides the setting for Pearce’s debut, but there’s much more to Beast than the classic small-town in disarray narrative. Told through the perspective of Moll (Jessie Buckley), a 27-year old woman who’s lost her way after an upbringing overshadowed by the ‘perfection’ of her sister and oppression of her protective mother, Beast chronicles the turmoil of a community that’s fallen victim to a spate of killings. Following a disastrous birthday party and close call with a dodgy guy from a bar, Moll meets Pascal (Johnny Flynn), a suspicious but intriguing figure who shakes up her otherwise tedious life. However, he also happens to be the suspected serial-killer and their passionate fling becomes embroiled in a series of allegations, investigations and complications. It’s got all the components of a fairy tale, yet this is far from being a happily-ever-after affair.
Aside from the odd burst of violence, Beast is not led by jump-scares, but by a series of encapsulating performances that master the art of getting under your skin. The best of the bunch is Buckley; haunted by a violent mishap from her childhood, Buckley’s character is no angel, yet she manages to deliver a perfect balance of being utterly unpredictable and equally endearing. Buckley oozes talent and this could (and should) be the film that gives her an even bigger break, such raw ability is only destined to go from strength to strength as she dominates the screen and delivers a performance that haunts for much longer than the film’s duration.
Equally as superb is Flynn, who adds flair to the otherwise stereotypical working-class outsider rejected by the upper classes. His rugged looks and boyish charm make him perfect for the role; we know we should suspect him, but to do anything other than welcome him with open arms seems unjust, particularly given his awful treatment from those around him. Although it is undoubtedly Buckley who steals the screen, Flynn deserves credit – he is most definitely one to watch.
However, the narrative suffers somewhat in its middle third as the story itself can’t quite keep up with the tremendous performances on display. Pearce proves from the get-go that he has a natural ability for building tension in the subtlest of ways, so when brawls suddenly start breaking out at town gatherings for the purpose of moving events on in the most obvious of ways, it feels as if he’s selling out his artistic roots. The tone jumps about a little too much, but luckily an unexpected twist and exhilarating ending steady the ship and demonstrate that, even with a few moments of mishap, Pearce knows how to thrill an audience.
The film’s intensity is created largely by a showcase of impressive cinematography. The camera lingers constantly on Buckley and its focus is used in the most creative of ways, plunging us deep into her mental state and, in turn, rupturing our own psychology. At times, these artistic qualities do however feel overused as the novelty of the soft-focus wears off quickly. Less is definitely more when creating tension, and the moments that abide by this principle are the stand-outs.
Although it has its problems, Beast gets very close to mastering the art of the psychological thriller. A truly refreshing step away from the summer blockbuster, it’s definitely something for those fed up of hearing about blokes flinging themselves about in super-suits to sink their teeth into. Keep your eyes out for Pearce, Buckley and Flynn in the near future.
Beast (2018), directed by Michael Pearce, is distributed in the UK by Altitude Film Entertainment, certificate 15.