When making one’s feature film directorial debut, one can be forgiven for playing it safe, attempting to please as opposed to pushing boundaries. However, in Beast, a barnstorming debut by director Michael Pearce, taking a chance has a devastatingly brilliant payoff.
A beautiful looking tale of isolation and empowerment
A haunting, choral soundtrack reminiscent of Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea opens the film across some gorgeous shots of the island of Jersey, and as the music intertwines into the opening scene, we see Moll (Taboo’s Jessie Buckley), singing in her overbearing Mother’s church choir, failing to find her focus. It rapidly becomes obvious that Moll is kind of the black sheep in her family, when her own birthday party is overshadowed by her sister’s pregnancy announcement. After Moll goes clubbing to get away from the party, she’s rescued from a potential sexual assault by the mysterious Pascal (Johnny Flynn), a rugged looking poacher, who poses an immediate stark contrast to Moll’s ordinariness.
Both Moll and Pascal suffer from judgment due to past mistakes, which makes their blossoming romance inevitably sweeter, despite the questionable pacing of it, one of the film’s very few faults. Where the film excels within the technical aspects is overwhelmingly due to some beautiful cinematography, with some absolutely stunning shots of Jersey on show, accompanied by an ever present score that fits perfectly within the themes of the film, and in itself provides an extra dimension for the haunting, dark story.
Strong casting supporting a super script
Not only has Pearce directed this film very, very well, but he’s also written a cracking script that truly gets the most of his fantastic ensemble cast. Another parallel to Manchester by the Sea would be the humour in the face of darkness, despite the film’s gory underbelly, focusing on a string of child murders, the script at times is hilarious and the cast convey this effortlessly, and at points it was impossible not to let out a chuckle.
The cast can always make or break a film, especially one as dark as this, but they really do a brilliant job. Jessie Buckley is mesmerising in the lead role, taking the viewer along the rollercoaster of Moll’s psyche that really hits hard with the film’s climactic ending, and her ability to switch emotions on the spot is a trademark of a very talented actress. Flynn is charmingly disturbing as Pascal, again varying across emotions so frequently it’s almost impossible to understand how the character is feeling and he constantly appears shrouded by mystery, whilst intervening with frequent wit and humour. The standout performance has to be Geraldine James however, as Moll’s overbearing, sadomasochistic mother, who takes great delight in humiliating her daughter in front of the family. She’s certainly reminiscent of Norma Bates, with Moll being of course Norman. I honestly believe should this film get a wider distribution and be considered for awards season, James would deservedly be in with a shout of a Supporting Actress nod, though I highly doubt that will happen.
Beast is a fantastic feature film debut by Michael Pearce, with it’s dark subject matter, stunning cinematography, ominous score and brilliant cast combing to produce a wonderful, brutally thrilling, hard to watch at times piece of filmmaking, thats only real fault is questionable pacing at the start.
Words by Elliott Jones