Friday, 20 April 2018

Review: Beast

Cert: 15 / 104 mins / Dir. Michael Pearce / Trailer

Ah, this is what the Spring months are about. Creeping in under the radar, between the awards-botherers of January and the superhero spandex which will come out of the wardrobe for May, are the smaller more interesting flicks that many moviegoers will miss*1. We've had monsters, psychopaths and ghosts, so the idea of a claustrophobic murder mystery set in suburban Jersey fits right in...

Writer/director's Michael Pearce's Beast is just that. Following Moll (Jessie Buckley), an introverted young woman living on the island with her domineering mother (Geraldine James) and a father in the early stages of Alzheimer's (Tim Woodward), we see her meeting and falling in love with a local handyman and poacher, Pascal (Johnny Flynn). A spate of abductions and murders of young girls has the islanders on-edge, and while nobody dares to point the finger directly at Pascal, he does have a chequered history. Moll, still struggling to come to terms with events in her own past, is torn between the guilt of a family life which is suffocating her, and freedom with a man she knows no-one will trust.

The first thing which hits you about Beast is that it's quite televisual, in a sort of Sunday night, 10pm sort of a way. But you also know that if it had premiered on television, you'd be wondering why it wasn't on at the cinema. The photography here is gorgeous, capturing the vibrant, bleak and poetic landscape in the same way as it does with its cast. From her very first scene, Jessie Buckley's Moll is both unstable and haunting, almost matched by Johnny Flynn in a role which brings to mind a younger, more suave, but still thoroughly unhinged Sean Harris. And while we're on the cast, Geraldine James is also every bit as terrifying as her part requires. Sympathetic characters are thin on the ground, here.

Cinematographer Benjamin Kracun captures a weird, timeless quality on the island, assisted by Jim Williams lingering score. The interior settings often look to be of the late 1970s, but not in a pastiche, Life On Mars sort of way. This just looks like a community which has become left behind without any of the residents noticing. And while there's nothing specifically setting the events in any fixed timeline, the TV reports and news-crews (and the police's use of digital voice recorders) seem to place this in the 21st century, yet we don't see a single mobile phone for the duration.

While the film drops certain clues and easter eggs with regards to the characters' pasts, Pearce doesn't spend too much time tying everything together. Ultimately, this is about shame, remorse, unresolved psychological issues and abusive relationships. It just happens to have a murder-case at the centre of it all.

To say more would be to unpick the plot, and this is really a character-piece. Beast is worth your time for its performances alone; the landscapes are a bonus...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Calvary, La Isla Minima, Sightseers.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
I suspect this will get a fairly limited release, but if you can, sure.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
As enjoyable as it is, this will probably be a streamer. Not a huge amount of rewatch value unless you're in love with the Jersey landscape..

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Difficult for me to say, but it's solid work all round.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Battle-of-Scarif Rebel pilot Blue Three is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Certainly if tonight's numbers were anything to go by. As an exclusive Unlimited Screening, the only real commitments members face to attend are travel costs and time itself. And the fact that the recent advance showing of Ready Player One was filled wall-to-wall is an indication that most card-holders will make the journey when it matters to them. I can only imagine that with a title like 'Beast', the occupants of tonight's empty seats either assumed the film was a flat-out horror and hadn't bothered, or they'd watched the trailer and realised it was something altogether more weird. Then hadn't bothered. Hey, I don't mind. While I want my cinema to do well, fewer people in the room means - statistically - less chance of me being annoyed with them. Speaking of which, bonus shout-out to the guy in seat G9 directly behind me, who booted the back of my seat every time he fidgeted. Approximately once a minute for the first half-hour… [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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