By Shalini Adnani
Beast, Matthew Pearce’s debut feature, follows Moll, a sheltered and home-schooled woman with a secret desire for the somewhat macabre - her possibly disturbed psyche hinted in the first five minutes of the film when Moll purposely clenches her fist filled with broken glass to cut herself. This aspect of Moll’s character, which is subtly touched on throughout, is left unresolved, and the filmmakers resorts to thriller tropes instead. This was the fundamental problem: the emotional core of the film remained unfocused.
On the beautiful Channel Island of Jersey, a serial killer is raping and murdering young local women. Enter Moll’s dangerous new boyfriend, Pascal, a potential suspect. Their relationship is mysterious, ambiguous, and controversial, and as Pascal faces community-wide prejudice, Moll protects and supports him. Jessie Buckley’s fierce performance as Moll served as a container for a film that struggles to know what genre(s) it plays into, and strays so far from the emotional core that it fails to answer the most basic, and more intriguing, dramatic questions posed initially.
Once it’s revealed that Pascal is not in fact the killer on the loose, he asks Moll what she’d have done if the opposite were in fact true during a picturesque day at the beach. This moment launches the audience, as well as Moll, into further doubt over Pascal's innocence, and would’ve served as the satisfying, mysterious ending the film sets itself up for. But the writer’s desire to take the film to a more tragic and ‘concrete’ place turned the last half of the film into a panicked and unfocused thriller. From then onward, the action packed third-act felt like a complete loss of control, in all ways.
Beast offers the audience dozens of subtle riddles and secrecies in the first act, but fails to even follow through with them, let alone answer them, playing like a muddled and unfocused first draft of a screenplay.
It was intriguing and captivating at first - the music harbingers a traumatic and horrific moment - never fully paying off, and then, in a panicked moment, the last half attempts to externalise the protagonists tormented psyche, answer all the questions it posed in the first half but only halfheartedly; it was a complete loss of control of the narrative.
I sense that Moll and Pascal’s tormented relationship is what Pearce wanted to explore all along, but it gets muddled by attempts to make the film a thriller, adding ‘drama’, and essentially losing all control of the narrative and the heart of the film. He takes the protagonist to the same place so many woman-goes-mad thrillers do. In fear of adding depth of character and possibly actually researching this character, a woman just goes mad (again), redeems herself, and kills her lover - leaving me with one big question: does any male writer want to portray female disturbia in an accurate way?
Overall Rating: 2 / 5
Writer & Director - Matthew Pearce
Producers - Kristian Brodie, Lauren Dark, Ivanak MacKinnon
Cinematographer - Benjamin Kracun
Production Design - Laura Ellis Cricks