Glasgow Film Festival Review: ‘Beast’

Set on the Channel Island of Jersey, ‘Beast‘ is a tale of a woman with a troubled past living within a small community. Moll (Jessie Buckley) is isolated in the environment of the island, and is alienated from her oppressive family. She falls for mysterious stranger Pascal (Johnny Flynn), but in the context of a string of murder cases and the disappearance of a teenage girl, there are questions of trust which form the heart of the narrative.

Buckley brings a multifaceted Moll to the screen with a kind of conviction that lures the audience into the narrative, only to have the rug pulled from under them. Who is the “Beast” of the title? The initial tendency would be to say that it is Pascal – a complete stranger who appears bloody kills animals and is framed in a view of “otherness” compared to the norms of the rest of the characters. Yet it is her family, and specifically, her mother Hilary (Geraldine James) who berates Moll’s decisions with bitterness.

The harshness of the island itself is captured well. Though some of this film is shot in mainland England, the crew have taken advantage of their time in Jersey. There’s a significance with the location of ‘Beast‘. Though the acts and the motivations of the characters may seem detached from every day, the minor characters in the cast behave in a way that only a small rural community would.

The status and privilege of the characters are a little overstated at times. Geraldine James, though a recognisable presence, is given dialogue which seems staged and unreal in some moments. It is interesting that the clip used to promote the feature online is a scene where social status is at it’s most obvious position of binary. Moll and Pascal are asked to leave a golf club dinner engagement because of Pascal’s informal clothing. I feel like there is more at stake for the characters than a simple class issue.

The use of sound design is also a departure from the norms of the thriller genre. We get a distorted mix of domestic/natural sounds alongside the score to match the condition of the psychosis within the characters. The score itself isn’t too far from an eerie thriller soundscape, but the form it takes on in the context of the mixed sound is interesting. The volume and fade of each sound element result in a final cut that is original. As an example, we sometimes see the characters speak but their speech is overcome with other selected noise as the gravity of the scene or situation unravels.

There are some fantastic casting choices made in ‘Beast‘. Jessie Buckley is a truly captivating screen presence and leads the audience through a film without a clear moral standpoint. Johnny Flynn is also accomplished as a detached stranger figure, who is posed at odds with the rest of the film. The editing and sound editing take on a role of piecing together evidence and sewing together ideas in a way that is left somewhat ambiguous for the audience. ‘Beast‘ is certainly very ambitious, and is mostly successful in presenting an elaborate moral maze. By the third act though, the scenarios are exhausted to their very extremes.

Zach Roddis | [rating=4]

Drama | UK, 2017 | 15 | Glasgow Film Festival | 27th April 2018 (UK Cinema)| Altitude Film Ent.| Dir.Michael Pearce | Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James