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The idea that this narrative can be interpreted in two completely different ways is more exciting than the film itself. That is not to say Michael Pearce's theatrical debut is bad, because it is not. Beast is a subtle, nicely acted and occasionally listless drama about a young woman (Jessie Buckley) who falls for a mysterious drifter (Johnny Flynn), who may or may not be responsible for the murders of several young women in a seaside town. Beast is almost too subtle at times, and I wanted the film to take hold of its characters and drama and provide some more interesting introspective. What is here is well shot and acted, but a bit too laissez faire for its own good.
Moll (Buckley) opens the film in voiceover, recounting a story about whales that went crazy when kept in captivity. That, of course, is directly related to her own life as a pampered, smothered and failed debutante of an overbearing mother (Geraldine James) who treats the thoroughly adult Moll like a child. Moll's father suffers from dementia, and her siblings have already seized their potential and left their younger sister behind. She meets Pascal (Flynn) when he scares another overbearing suitor away, and Moll quickly falls in love. Pascal, with his black jeans and unkempt hair, is not a welcome sight in Moll's home, and her mother chastises her for leaving her father unattended for long periods during the day. Contemporaneously, the town mourns and investigates a series of murders involving young women.
The killing spree on the Isle of Jersey is alluded to, mostly in passing, but the location also gives party guests and Pascal the chance to butt heads over whose land they revel on at a failed birthday celebration for Moll. Pascal is almost too prickish to be believed; as if he is trying to ruffle the feathers of anyone in his path. He never seems particularly interesting either, which undercuts this narrative for me. Surely Moll, suffering in domestic hell or not, has more sense than to run off with a gun-toting stranger? A local policeman (Trystan Gravelle) investigates the murders and warns Moll that Pascal has a violent past. Instead of heeding this warning, Moll confronts Pascal, who becomes enraged, and attempts to contact his past victim in person to disastrous results.
With supporting characters that come and go without much impact, Beast is left on the shoulders of Buckley and Flynn, who do an admirable job despite my misgivings with the writing (also Pearce) and some plot points. There are a couple of genuinely unsettling moments here, when the movie threatens to live up to its potential. There is an interesting scene toward the end of the film at an outdoor restaurant that gives you the answer or lack of answers about what Pascal has or has not done. If that sounds ambiguous it is because Beast is ambiguous. That is fine, but I wish it was more compelling. There is clearly talent in front of and behind the camera here, but Beast borders on pretentious, and I do not just mean Moll's family.
Lionsgate's 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is expectedly crisp and clean, with strong fine-object detail and texture despite the relatively dreary setting. The entire film has a dreamy, softer appearance, which is intentional, but the image appears lifelike and looks good in motion. Colors are nicely saturated, blacks are inky and I noticed only minor aliasing. Shadow detail is impressive, and edge halos are nonexistent.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio mix supports the dialogue-heavy feature with clear conversations and light ambient effects. A nightclub sequence awakens the subwoofer and offers strong sound panning. The effects, score and dialogue are all integrated appropriately. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release includes an HD digital copy. The disc is packed into an eco-case that is wrapped in a slipcover. Extras include The Making of Beast (7:29/HD), an EPK featurette; A Look at Beast (5:46/HD), which is a reel of production photos; and a Theatrical Trailer (2:28/HD).
Michael Pearce's theatrical debut offers strong central performances, but the did-he-or-didn't-he mystery at its heart is not explored with enough vigor to make Beast as effective as it might have been. Rent It.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.