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Beast

“Captivity is always captivity, no matter how gentle the jailer.”

[John Hargrove]

With moments of interest and intrigue, this installment from Michael Pearce develops incidental to itself: a romance interrupted by a background murder investigation that becomes entangled with the romance, dragging with it the indifference and incidental qualities that should have otherwise been developed longer and in the process diluting whatever semblance of plausible love the original had. Scenes reminiscent of Border where strangely present throughout (especially the filming of the swimming scene!). Love story developed as only two impetuous teenagers could develop. In the end, we are perhaps thankful one of them took that “Midnight Train to Georgia.”

There were two streams + 1 that found discordance in the end, but sufficiently founded to make it believable.

One, development of Moll’s (Jessie Buckley – who was quite good) violent streak from childhood and her effort to suppress whatever inner demons she had to suppress. The opening lines about the whales in captivity and how they broke their teeth from madness was a very impactful starting point to developing further Moll’s psychology. Her coup de grâce on the rabbit was another fine moment, but she was ultimately reduced to the victim instead of the savior, as the plot intended for her to be.

Two, Pascal’s (Johnny Flynn – less good) impetuous and seemly violent streak that he  seemed willing to surrender or maybe it was all a pretext for getting rid of the one person he believed “knew.”

And three, the missing, undeveloped streak, concerning the relationship between Moll and her mother (Geraldine James) and the manifestations of Moll’s violence as a byproduct of nature and nurture. The language between the two at times were harrowing and well orchestrated, reminiscent of Sharp Objects.

Writing crime drama is an immensely difficult art form and while there was plenty to appreciate about Beast, it was ultimately underdeveloped and creatively anemic. It was a film that could have used the extra 30-minutes to develop the characters and story better. It could have inundated and taken more chances with the fairy tale tropes by introducing fantastical elements: forcing the audience to questions the reality of the romance (dreams were obvious to me) and adding layers to the psychology of retreat and regress. It could have dug deeper with the idea of familial captivity hinted throughout (Pascal’s no parents/no constraints | Moll’s parent all constraint with the father’s DNA signalling cognitive disrepair to look forward to) using the whale illustration mentioned at the start. The singing choir was an excellent use of music that could have permeated throughout the film instead of isolated scenes. That would have created much stronger accoustics and haunting allure reverberating throughout the film.

That said, now having seen all three, the comments from Chloe Lizotte (Film Comment) were well honed and appreciated:

[Beast’s] surface-level riffs on fairy-tale setpieces suggest an inhibited cousin of recent genre films exploring young women’s social repression, like Joachim Trier’s Bergman-indebted Thelma, or Julia Ducournau’s vet-school cannibal horror film Raw.

This genre, more and more, is best left to the medium of the mini-series or crime-drama series with minimal installments (e.g. no more than 3 seasons); however, some have done well trying a connected trilogy (e.g. Department Q).

Beast did not quite get there. But not bad for a debut.

RATING: C+

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