BEAST is the feature film debut of director Michael Pearce. Having made the rounds at Sundance, TIFF, and several other festivals; it makes its NYC Debut on Thursday, May 10th. After watching, I expect big things from Pearce in the future, as well as from the film’s stars; Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn. The screenplay, the imagery, and the performances are some of the best I’ve seen in any film so far this year.
The film centers on Moll, a quiet, seemingly meek 27 year-old who still lives at home, expertly played by Jessie Buckley. The only thing “wild” about her at first glance is the shock of bright red curls that top her head, compared to the dishwater blonde and brown hair the rest of her family possesses. As time goes on, we find out there is definitely more to Moll than what we originally perceive.
On the evening of her 27th birthday party, Moll stands about looking bored and uncomfortable as she is given a police issue pin by Clifford (Trystan Gravelle), who appears to be her boyfriend at first glance. After her sister Holly (Shannon Tarbet) hijacks her birthday party with an announcement, turning the attention towards her, we catch a glimpse of just how controlling and manipulative Moll’s mother, Hillary (Geraldine James) is when she rudely commands Moll to go get champagne for her sister’s big news.
Moll escapes the birthday party, which is no longer hers anyway, to a club by the beach on the island of Jersey where the action is set. She drinks and dances all night with a man named Leigh (Charley Palmer Rothwell), who in the early light of the dawn, tries to force her into a kiss against her will. Then, to the rescue, comes a lone gunman. Leigh runs off into the early morning mist and we are introduced to the ruggedly handsome and mysterious Pascal Renouf, played by Johnny Flynn, the star of Netflix’ Lovesick.
Meeting Pascal is an important moment for Moll. Something in her seems to transform almost immediately. As she seemed to be scared of Leigh and completely disinterested in Clifford, we see her awkward discomfort with herself and the world around her melt away with Pascal. In a perfect world, Pascal and Moll would run away right after the breathtaking scene where the two share a first kiss on top of a seaside cliff. We almost forget this isn’t a Merchant & Ivory romance. It doesn’t take long, however, to discover that the world Michael Pearce has built in BEAST is far from perfect.
There’s a killer on the loose in Jersey, keeping everyone on high alert, including and especially Moll’s mother, Hillary. She is extremely wary of Moll’s relationship with Pascal, saying “Sweetheart you can’t just change the rules when someone shows an interest”. Not only because of her suspicions about the killer, but because she’s worried she might lose control over the only child that is still within her grasp. Defiantly, Moll leaves her family home to move in with Pascal, when shortly after it is discovered that he is the prime suspect in the murders. Things start to slowly unravel, the layers of trauma in both Moll and Pascal’s lives laid bare for all of us to judge. Without giving too much away, the culmination of the murder investigation, which is oddly enough being led by Clifford, leads to an unveiling of the darkest parts of Moll’s psyche.
This immaculately crafted exploration of trauma, love, catharsis, and revenge is definitely worth a watch. It proves to us that everyone we know, no matter how meek they seem, has a dark side to them, a questionable past, a beast within that is just waiting to be let out.