No matter how close we get to someone or how much we think we know, there exists a void between you and anyone else that cannot be crossed. Trust is a bridge across secrets, but sturdy it ain’t. It’s a swaying rope suspension bridge that threatens to collapse with one wrong step and it’s probably best that you don’t look down.
Beast is a film that dwells in this abyss, exploring the gaps that exist between you and everyone you love that, depending on your perspective, might be best left unseen. What, then, when they are seen? More terrifying yet, what then when what we see isn’t what we think we see?
Perception is key in Beast, the feature length debut from writer/director Michael Pearce. Existing at the intersection between what we know, what we think we know, and what we don’t know, Beast is a taut, if flawed, psychological thriller that aims high. For the most part, it succeeds, even if it drags on perhaps a bit too long.
Moll (Jessie Buckley) is an outcast weirdo in her small British village, the result of an incident that took place years ago. Her family treats her with kid gloves, refusing to acknowledge her growth as a person since that time, and largely keeping her confined in a box of pre-conceived notions. Soon, Moll meets and falls for the dashing drifter Pascal (Johnny Flynn) and, against her family’s wishes, starts falling in love. However, a series of grisly murders begins to occur in the village, and as suspicions are cast on Pascal, Moll is forced to confront what she knows about this mysterious young man.
Pearce does a mostly great job letting Beast ascend with slow, deliberate tension. Despite moments that drag, the movie is an intriguing study of psychology and perception, elevated by standout performances from its two stars.
As more of Moll’s history is revealed, Buckley latches on to the complexities of the character and plays her with a perfect ambiguity. So, too, with Flynn, who keeps you on your toes with Pascal as the film ponders who, and what, he is.
Ambiguity is a huge player in Beast. There’s room to doubt any and every answer we’re given, to the point where what happens can be discussed and debated without any real resolution. This all builds to a fantastically horrific climax that elevates all that came before it.
While there are a few pacing issues, they aren’t so glaring as to bring down the overall effect for which Beast is trying. Even the dull moments add texture to the film and deepens the central mystery. It works thanks to Pearce’s solid script and directorial eye, both of which keep the film’s secrets close to the chest, revealing to the audience only what it wants when it wants to.
As debuts go, Beast offers an often stunning glimpse into the workings of a potential master of the thrills. It’s the kind of film that suggests greatness even if it never quite achieves it for itself. Which isn’t to say it’s bad—far from it, in fact. But it does leave you wondering what Pearce might be capable of with some more experience under his belt. That remains to be see, obviously, but for now, the potential is certainly intriguing.
Beast is now playing in limited release.