Life can be stifling when it feels like you have nowhere to go, and it’s even more stifling when you’re trapped on an island. Moll (Jessie Buckley) lives with her parents in Jersey, held on a tight leash by her mother after an incident in her childhood permanently put a strain on their relationship. She’s the “wild one” according to her sister, but her timid personality suggests otherwise. She’s almost treated like a child with the wardrobe to match, unable to grow up like her siblings have. In comes Pascal (Johnny Flynn) like a knight in hunting gear to save her from an unsavoury date. Their intriguing love story is the foundation of a thriller that sacrifices a fascinating character study for genre-juggling.
Much of the film is dedicated to solving a murder mystery — a serial killer is targeting young girls and terrorising Jersey — and Pascal’s dark past puts him at the top of the suspect list. Moll is forced to face a difficult dilemma: stand by the man she loves or leave a potentially dangerous man? The hunt for the killer is made particularly intense by a tight screenplay but it eventually grows tiresome as it drowns in boring procedural cliches. The murders aren’t even the most interesting part of Beast (MOLL IS!) but writer-director Michael Pearce doesn’t seem to understand that.
The film’s title seems to be a metaphor for Moll’s animalistic transformation from the family disappointment to an independent woman taking control of her life. Moll has a volatile past of her own, and with the aid of her passionate love affair, she finds the courage to unleash her own inner beasts. Pascal represents everything Moll’s mother disapproves of — he doesn’t follow rules, smokes wherever he pleases and trails his muddy shoes on the carpet — practically marking his territory. He’s the way out of Moll’s suffocating existence, and the catalyst for, not so much a coming-of-age, but growing into a new skin. I’ll refrain from venturing into spoiler territory but aspects of Pascal’s character made me resistant towards rooting for their relationship. I don’t know if Pearce wants us to root for them, but maybe this confrontation with the grey area is necessary. Everything can’t be as simple as black and white, and the film makes that evident in ample quantities.
The film brims with potential, the combination of suspenseful writing and dynamic cinematography is captivating and alluring, but it eventually falters when it doesn’t know what to do with all the material. Beast shines in its first half, an uncomfortable tension lingers, heightened by the continuous drone of its low-key score. It’s a shame that the film falls apart in its third act. There are approximately four different points where I thought the film was going to end and then it just…kept going.
What makes it all worth it is Jessie Buckley’s electrifying performance. She’s the film’s beating heart and deafening roar, commanding the screen with nothing more than a look. It’s a testament to Buckley’s ferocious presence that she outshines the film tenfold. By the (long-awaited) end, when all the pieces come together, the arc of her character becomes all the more haunting — she’s a woman coming into her own in the most horrifying way.
Beast will be released in the UK on the 27th April 2018. You can read the rest of our Glasgow Film Festival coverage here.