It is rare to hear an audience leaving a movie buzzing loudly about a film’s finale. Was she, he, or both, killers? There are no spoon-fed answers, only ambiguity and doubt. The psychological thriller Beast (2017)has all the hallmarks of a fine British drama mixed with the Hitchcock tradition of never reveal all.
Set on the isolated and windswept island of Jersey, it is a tale of two people who battle the beast within themselves. Striking red-haired 27-year old Moll (Jessie Buckley) is a captive of both the island and her family. A single episode of schoolgirl violence and a vindictive mother are a prison and her future is bleak. She meets ruggedly handsome game poacher and social outsider Pascal (Johnny Flynn) who represents everything her life is not: excitement, freedom, and defiance. The lovers are shunned until Pascal becomes chief suspect in a violent killing.
Given its conventional plotline, what makes this film stand out? The answer is cinematography, script, and cast. While the location helps, the filming has a languid noir style that accentuates social claustrophobia in contrast to the island’s untamed beauty. This is no place for wordy exchanges and the film’s minimalist dialogue stays on point. One particular scene stands out as an example of how much can be compressed into so little. At an elegant golf club dinner, Moll observes the contempt heaped on Pascal and jumps up for a toast: “to my family and all they have done for me: I forgive you”.
By far the film’s strongest suit is the darkly enigmatic couple who are perfect in their roles. Moll is an unconventional, almost androgynous, beauty who exudes repressed defiance and potential for violence. Pascal is the piercing-eyed smiling commoner who could equally be a psychotic killer or a harmless charmer. Each has a latent beast, but neither reveal enough for us to judge the power of their urges. The support cast is excellent, although developed more as caricatures: the abusive mother, the simpering brother, and the fawning constable.
This independent film refreshingly avoids simple genre labels. It orchestrates elements of drama, romance, and crime thriller with continually rising tension notes played like a grand piano while we are kept unsure of the significance of new insights and events. That is perhaps the hardest thing in psychological thrillers:moving the suspense forward on an upward curve and keeping you guessing. This is a tense portrait of unpredictable characters in a web of the unexpected.
Director: Michael Pearce
Stars: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James