The idea of being purely and wholly civilized is sheer myth. We’re all just varying degrees of monstrosity, and finding our people and partners is about finding those with just the right concoction of damage and malintent to match your own. In a time of distress and utter confusion in my personal life, I return to the movies. Something about the title and description of Beast led me to believe it to be something of a humanist film. That assumption was correct, but certainly not in the manner I wanted it to be.
Moll, played by the up-and-coming modern starlet Jessie Buckley, is a woman whose psychological wounds are worn on her face. In the picturesque birthday party that her mother throws for her, one could take the stills from the crowd and pick her out as the black sheep, and they’d be right. So we’re not surprised when she drifts away from the party in a state of depression and dissociation; and in a turn of events dictated either by luck or tragedy, she stumbles upon the town’s outcast, Pascal (Johnny Flynn).
The manner of their initial encounter was entirely chivalrous, but this film should not be put in the “Romance” section. This is a taut and quiet thriller that blurs the informal line between mankind and the nature that surrounds us. Pascal and Moll strike up a few conversations, leading to sex, and then to a relationship, but at no point does this feel like it caters to the loving fantasies many of us have. There’s a raw and animalistic nature to their affair, their love scenes seeming to be rooted in a deep-seated rage, one the audience can’t tell is directed toward each other, their pasts, or themselves.
The other main part of this story is a multiple-murder investigation going on in the backdrop. Young girls are being swept up and sexually assaulted, murdered thereafter. And in this world that first-time director Michael Pearce has created–one that is not dictated by theatrical cues, a constant presence of music, or every time-gap of our main characters addressed–we are as clueless as everyone else as to whether or not the avid-hunting loner Pascal is our culprit. Nobody tells the truth about anything in Beast and they all seem to mumble their words and carry neurotic dispositions. Even the ones more indoctrinated into their public seem to always be checking and reviewing their every move for the sake of being socially acceptable.
In a world where films about small towns that are “off” or “different” in some way have become the norm, Beast manages to feel fresh and utilize an untapped well of potential through Pearce’s marvelous screenplay containing captivating and well-rounded characters. He manages to place Moll in situations where even though she does things that we know are inappropriate, we understand her motivations and why she wanted to do them in the first place; whether it be through the molding of our identities through disastrous experiences, the sake of appearances, or the slow unraveling of our “humanity” into our beast-like impulses, nothing that happens in Beast is reasonless. Even though there are some pieces of dialog that are reminiscent of more “traditional” romances there does not diminish the paranoid presence that stretches and thrives throughout the film’s 100 minutes. Here’s hoping Michael Pearce can maintain this quality in the future.