An odd, twisty yet still vaguely unwieldy thriller, Michael Pearce’s Beast is unlike any other serial killer film you’ve seen before.
There is a world-within-a-world on the island of Jersey. One that hides in suburbs behind thick hedges and demur smiles and a very real sense of claustrophobia. Mol (Jessie Buckley), a young woman feeling stifled by her current situation within this unnamed community, meets and falls quickly in love with a curiously scarred Pascal (Johnny Flynn) during a summer where a serial killer stalks the island.
Throughout Beast there is lingering sense of unease – whether it be the young women turning up dead in farmers’ fields, Mol’s mother Hillary’s (Geraldine James) cutting and impactful asides to her daughter, or the constant threat of violence that is continually bubbling away under the surface. As atmospheric as this is, it quickly because tiring as each potential is swept aside with ease, without a second thought; it’s not that I do appreciate a good mystery but the central question of Pascal’s potential role in the murders barely seems to bother most of the characters, let alone trouble the audience.
Another side of the film is the very eerie and unnerving world that Mol and Gemma move in, one that involves almost a complete lack of colour – both in clothes and personality – and a reach that appears to stretch up through the ranks of the police force. There’s more than the simple explanation of class difference for the distanting and distain that Mol’s family and others have for Pascal – something else trickles underneath and occasion escapes in moments of quiet condemnation. This, along with the psychology of Mol’s isolation from society, could potentially have led to a more satisfying payoff.
Amid this blank and pale canvas, the chemistry between Buckley and Flynn lights up the screen both literally and figuratively, with a flood of colourful images, nightclub nights and pure physical attraction, as they contemplate each other with careful eyes. Neither is perfect – but the two equally damaged characters are far different from how they first appear.
Pearce’s debut film is an intriguing and unsettling piece that doesn’t entirely succeed but is truly a stunning piece of art.
There’s not question that a beast does stalk the island but the question you’re left with in the final moments is who truly the beast is.