Mystery, murder, love, and betrayal. Not necessarily in that order.
The 2017 mystery drama ‘Beast’ sneaks up on you with wonderful surprise. Trying to solve the mystery is an exercise in futility; I’m not even sure writer/director Michael Pearce can. And that’s one of many things that makes this film special.
Moll (Jessie Buckley, stellar) is an odd girl. Living on Jersey island, she’s helping a domineering mother (Geraldine James) take care of her ailing father. Living a mostly joyless existence Moll takes an instant liking to mutual loner, outsider Pascal Renouf (a fierce Johnny Flynn).
Presented as intercut sequences between what Moll sees and what she thinks assures that what’s presented onscreen can never truly be trusted–a fever dream of anxiety, wish fulfillment, and seething over rage. It’s easy to sympathize with this awkward couple. That is until Pascal’s criminal past paints him as a suspect in a series of recent rape/murders.
Already shunned by Moll’s snobbish family, Pascal is now ostracized from the whole of this insular community. And, by proximity, so is Moll. Pushing these two even closer together when all reason should tell her to run the other way.
Standard genre fare would paint Pascal as either a victim of scathing social bias or as a sociopathic killer seeking his next easy target/accomplice with Moll. Yet, filmmaker Pearce won’t let us off that easy.
The slowburn of Moll and Pascal’s fantasy styled romance turned nightmare offers no clear resolution into either of these complex characters’ motives. The violent shift right at the film’s end only intensifies the ambiguity. Rarely is such powerful pretense left with such an uncertain resolution. Who the killer is becomes completely, beautifully irrelevant.
Between the intense performances, the beautiful cinematic artistry, and that hauntingly ambiguous finale ‘Beast‘ holds our rapt attention. It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea and it strays into self-indulgence, at times. But, I loved it, nonetheless.