Beast (2017)

Beast first published by RealCrime Magazine

“You’ve got blood on your hands,” Moll (Jessie Buckley) tells Pascal (Johnny Flynn). They have just met, as he, toting a hunting rifle, has rescued her from being date-raped by a pickup from the nightclub. The blood, as Pascal points out, is from the rabbit that he just poached – and the irony is that the only reason she is now in this stranger’s four-wheel drive is so he can sterilise and bandage the (self-inflicted) wound on her palm. So they both have blood on their hands, literally – and perhaps in another way. Their attraction to one another is sealed.

Set on the Isle of Jersey, writer/director Michael Pearce’s feature debut Beast is a slippery slow-burner whose two main characters seem drawn to that something wild buried not so deep within each other. Ever since, 14 years earlier, a violent incident at school led to her expulsion, Moll has been kept infantilised and on a tight leash at home by her domineering mother Hilary (Geraldine James), who always makes Moll play second fiddle to her older, more respectable brother (Oliver Maltman) and sister (Shannon Tarbet). So ‘bit of rough’ Pascal arrives into Moll’s stuffy world as a breath of fresh sea air, his working class status (which he is happy to play up) making him the perfect vehicle for unhappy, angry Moll finally to rebel against the bourgeois respectability of her family – and he, like her, has his own chequered past and rap sheet. They complete each other.

In other words, as Moll, after finding the one person who truly understands what makes her tick, finally flies the coop and makes her own nest, Beast is simultaneously a coming-of-age tale and a romance spattered in the muddy stains of amour fou. Yet woven into the background, apparent right from the film’s opening shots of floral memorials in the island’s remote places, is a murder mystery. A serial killer has been abducting, raping and murdering local girls, and the latest, Melissa, went missing the night of Moll’s birthday, shortly before the morning Moll first met Pascal.  When Pascal is revealed by policeman Cliff (Trystan Gravelle) to be a suspect in the case, Moll maintains that she was dancing with him that whole evening, even as she starts wondering what that lie might say not only about Pascal, but also about herself.

The result is an intense, morally ambiguous psychological drama, realising a recurrent nightmare that Moll has in which she is paradoxically cast all at once as both victim and perpetrator. It is also, from the early moment we see Moll plucking a freak hair from her neck, a metaphorical take on the werewolf genre. For here, despite the absence of literal lycanthropes, beasts within are unleashed, even (in one key sequence) under a full moon.

© Anton Bitel