Michael Pearce’s debut feature film, Beast, will haunt you long after you leave the cinema. A serial killer is preying on young women and tension is building within the community as they look for answers. Moll, expertly performed by Jessie Buckley, falls in love with a mysterious man who becomes the prime suspect in the investigation. Deeply unhappy and stifled by a family who want her to conform, Moll’s life begins to spiral out of control.
Set in Jersey, a tiny island between the UK and France, the steep coastal cliffs and dense forests make for a perfect setting for this psychological thriller to unfold. Although there are no jump scares, except for one scene which caused an audience member to audibly (and very comically) gasp in terror, Pearce sustains an eerie and deeply unsettling atmosphere throughout. Nightmare sequences slip into the narrative without warning, and the audience can only distinguish dream from reality once Moll has woken up. It wasn’t until the final credits began that I could finally relax.
This is not another whodunnit British crime drama, but rather an intriguing exploration into Moll’s psychological state. Falling in love with the wild and provocative Pascal unleashes Moll’s inner rage, and her blind faith in his innocence leads her to reject her repressive family and become alienated in her own community. Though initially the title appears to refer to the Jersey serial killer, the beast becomes increasingly difficult to identify.
Moll herself has a dark past, a fury within her that breaks through in several compelling scenes. The timid, awkward character we first meet transforms slowly into a ferocious young woman who viciously hacks up a perfectly manicured lawn at a family luncheon and refuses to leave a funeral service where her presence is deeply unwelcome. There are even physical suggestions that the title of the film refers to Moll. She plucks a long hair that persistently grows for her neck, but in one of the final scenes, Moll chooses not to extract the hair. She has succumbed to the beast that grows within her. Perhaps it is within all of us. After all, every character in this film has deeply sinister qualities. The community has merely cultivated their inner monsters more successfully than Moll.
The excitement and passion of the early days of a blossoming relationship is masterfully portrayed and one of the many triumphs of the film. Moll and Pascal’s desire is tangible, their early encounters taking on a kind of unfocused and nostalgic quality. It does not feel so unbelievable that Moll would protect someone believed to be guilty of such heinous crimes. However, it is increasingly unclear whether Moll is convinced of Pascal’s innocence or whether her love for him is greater than her repulsion for his crimes.
Beast maintains a perfect balance between action, drama and reflection. The narrative is punctuated with satisfying plot twists and an ending that cannot be easily predicted. It is a refreshing spin on what could have been just another crime drama in which innocent women are brutally murdered. Instead we follow a complex and unconventional woman as she hurtles blindly down a dark and dangerous path. This is not for the weak-hearted. Prepare to be shocked, excited and completely captivated.