There are three critical things about Michael Pearce’s debut Beast. First, it is utterly bonkers. Second, it knows it’s bonkers. Third, it loves that it’s bonkers, embraces that it’s bonkers, and never misses a chance to double down on being bonkers when other, more “serious” films would’ve kept their distance. It’s approaching such fraught material with such swaggering confidence, confidence that permeates every level of the film, tying it all together. A moment of trepidation and all would’ve been lost. Beast is all-in, all the time. That alone earns it a certain undying affection that little else can garner.
Beast is about Moll (Jessie Buckley), a redheaded Jersey girl (the British kind) boxed in by any number of forces; there social and economic reasons, sure, but also her icy and controlling mother (Geraldine James, marvelous), who uses every point of leverage she has, including Moll’s ailing father, as a vector for control. This works until it doesn’t, a breakage that takes the form of Pascal (Johnny Flynn). Pascal is working class; Pascal is a badass who doesn’t play by the rules; oh, and maybe Pascal is the man who’s been hunting down and murdering Jersey girls who all seem to bear a striking resemblance to Moll? Did I mention that? The serial killer? Hmmmmm.
There is not a single subtle moment in Beast, which is absolutely the correct decision. There is also not a single moment in Beast outside Moll’s increasingly-decaying subjectivity, which is also absolutely the correct decision. Beast never truly resolves certain narrative ambiguities, instead centering its focus on its characters, their character, and their choices, the most correct decision of all. Beast hops from correct decision to correct decision, in a tangle of plot and thematic elements offering very few of them, so effortlessly you begin to feel like the film was not so much made as emerged, whole and complete, a single ecosystem in which a single element added, removed, or modified would spiral into unknown and devastating consequences. This is in-and-of-itself so meta-thematic that it makes me want jump for joy.
It helps that every constituent element of Beast is fantastic. We’ve talked about writing and direction; many people will also be talking about Jessie Buckley, and for good reason, because she takes on a very difficult role like it’s her birthright, which maybe it was. Beast is sumptuously shot and startlingly well-edited, often-times literally so, basking in the horror elements of its narrative without ever becoming anything quite like a conventional horror movie. Beast also sounds phenomenal; like all truly immersive films, it pays careful attention to mixes, relative volumes, timings of sounds.
Beast is a natural companion to The Witch, Robert Eggers’s debut which also deals with much the same themes in many of the same ways. Anyone looking to put on a hell of a double-feature, here you go. What Beast adds more than anything else is a more resolute raison d’etre from its protagonist. It’s a difficult thread to parse: at once convincingly portray the myriad interlocking forces, personal and extra-personal that shape, constrain, and buttress, while still giving human characters real agency over their choices. It’s that, more than anything, that makes Beast so compelling from beginning to end.