Beast is a surprisingly fascinating, low-budget UK thriller with a great cast and some lovely location filming. The synopsis however makes it seem more hysterical than the subdued drama it really is- Moll (Jessie Buckley, who is really excellent here), a somewhat rebellious young woman with a traumatic past in which she, ahem, nearly killed a fellow classmate at school, falls for a charming young stranger, Pascal (Johnny Flynn).
Oh dear. Sounds pretty awful teen-angst romantic nonsense, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what I feared, although from the off the execution is pretty great. So it earns a pass and we press on-
Troubled souls sharing a feeling of isolation from the island community around them, the two of them have an affair at odds with the wishes of Moll’s domineering, restrictive mother (Geraldine James channeling all sorts of Queen Bitch of the Universe stuff) – but the island has been troubled by a series of murders of children, and when Pascal is named as a chief suspect, Moll confounds the police by giving her lover a false alibi. Pascal, being an isolated young man with a criminal record, might just be an easy target for the police, who are under all sorts of pressure to arrest someone, but could they be right? Already emotionally fragile and reacting against her controlling family, Moll starts to breakdown under the pressure of her growing suspicions of Pascal and the frenzy of suspicion from the villagers around her who believe she is knowingly protecting a murderer.
Yeah, I had trouble writing that synopsis and making it seem something serious and intelligent, which it is, really, rather than the pulpish romantic potboiler it might seem. There is a sense of darkness throughout, something more in the vein of the Hannibal tv series, say, or even perhaps Blue Velvet, in which the dark underbelly of civilised society is threatened to be lain bare. Its not as subversive as those two examples I’ve mentioned, but there’s certainly, as the film progresses, a growing disquiet that makes the viewer start to wonder what he/she is watching. Moll may not be the reliable witness we think she is, her character and past deeper than might be expected. Jessie Buckley is really great in this- Moll is pretty and intelligent but she’s broken, too, visibly fracturing and at times literally screaming at the world around her. Beast is more of a character piece than might be expected and ultimately succeeds largely due to the two central lead performances. Its a great little UK thriller and certainly worth a watch.