**** (Four stars)
CERT 15/104 MINS
DIRECTOR/WRITER Michael Pearce
CAST Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James, Trystan Gravelle
A troubled young women, Moll (Buckley), sparks controversy in a small-island community when she pursues a relationship with the mysterious vagabond Pascal Renouf (Flynn). However, while their new-found love kindles, a manhunt is underway after the disappearance of three women casts doubt onto their relationship and Renouf’s shadowy past.
The debut feature film from Michael Pearce Beast is a psychological thriller that thrives on challenging class assumptions. Set on the island of Jersey, amongst a terrorised society, the winding country roads, serene hilltop landscapes and crystal-clear waters give the film’s setting a polished veneer. However, underneath this pristine exterior, a menace lingers.
Its saturated cinematography paves the way for the community’s secrets and covert class assumptions to come tumbling through. Against this bleak backdrop lies Moll (Jess Buckley). Immediately, Moll’s striking auburn hair demands attention. Her haphazard flyaway curls allude to her desperate plea: escape the middle-class confines from which she’s caged.
Buckley’s performance of the stifled Moll nears on perfection. Throughout the film, Moll is vacant, void and riddled with repressed emotions. But her true feelings are made apparent by Buckley’s sublime but subtle characterisation. For instance, in an opening scene, Buckley raises the left side of her lips in a semi-snarl, before she quickly quashes the impulse. Likewise, Moll’s elegant posture at the start of the film is uncomfortable and rigid. However, as the film draws to a close, her movements become unregulated. Buckley’s body language is enticing, you want to know what secrets lurk beneath.
Her changing psyche unravels further when she interacts with other characters. At the beginning of the film, these exchanges are collected, and her anger and disappointment are externally contained. However, as time rages on, Moll’s composure starts to slip. She lashes out at other, more minor, characters. It is as if her clutches on reality are slipping.
Whereas the film’s male lead, Pascal Renouf (Johnny Flynn) is very much in control of his actions from beginning to end. Pascal’s character has less community history attached but a greater sense of leering judgement. His dirty outward appearance repulses Moll’s mother, Hilary Huntingdon (Geraldine James) and her former love interest Clifford (Trystan Gravelle). It is their attitudes that cast doubt onto Pascal’s innocence over the disappearances and Moll’s trust in her own partner.
Pascal’s denim jeans and leather jacket are marked against the linen, wool and silk that surrounding characters wear. His handyman roots and pub pints are also called into question when the plot thickens. But it is Flynn that gives Pascal depth. Throughout his performance, Flynn barely raises his voice, but his opinions are always voiced. His eyes reinforce his controlling nature.
Beast is most certainly a quiver that Buckley and Flynn can add to their respective bows. However, it is Michael Pearce who is the film’s beating heart and for the first-time, his vision has been actualised. His script gives the characters a modern quality, while the costumes and cinematography leave the story balancing among the decades, frozen in time.
This is a powerful debut by Writer/Director, Michael Pearce. From its opening sequence, this gripping psychological thriller is very much the sum of its perfectly executed parts. Both the stars and crew are given the space to shine as assumptions about class and aggression are explored.