British writer/director Michael Pearce brings his debut feature Beast to LIFF 31. Set on Jersey, the film follows Moll (Jessie Buckley), a young woman with a controlling family who falls for the rugged Pascal (Johnny Flynn). However, Pascal is the number one suspect in a series of murders and Moll’s life becomes more difficult than she could have imagined.
Beast is a blast to watch. Pearce seems to have been influenced by the work of Alfred Hitchcock, David Fincher and Brian De Palma to make an operatic, melodramatic psychodrama that is hugely entertaining. Whilst some scenes become so melodramatic that they are unbelievable, the film has a sense of humour about itself that carries it through some of its more unlikely moments. At its best, this film feels like a British version of Gone Girl or Dressed to Kill. At its worst, it feels like a big screen episode of Midsomer Murders, which is not a necessarily a negative!
The pacing of the film is relentless and means that the story (which is familiar in a classic sense), remains light and unpretentious. However, despite the fast pace, Pearce does know when to give a moment time to breathe. This means that the central characters feel fleshed out enough to give the story heft. The cinematography is also excellent, and captures the natural beauty of Jersey whilst also expertly conveying a sense of mystery and danger as the stakes are raised.
Pearce also coaxes a brilliant performance from Jessie Buckley as Moll. Buckley (recently seen in Taboo), gives the performance of the Festival so far. She deftly navigates the complex psychology of her character and sells some of the more melodramatic scenes. Flynn’s performance gets better as he goes along, but his character is intentionally an enigma so he doesn’t have as much to sink his teeth into. Geraldine James, as Moll’s mother Hilary is a brilliantly monstrous matriarch although her character is too cliched to be taken seriously.
Overall, Beast is my highlight of the Festival to date. For sheer entertainment value, this film is unmatched – fun, tense, intelligent and Jessie Buckley is a star on the rise. The film isn’t perfect but it moves at pace and is full of entertaining twists and turns. It is exciting to see a debut director make their mark on British cinema in such an exciting way.
Next in our coverage of LIFF 31- Glory, Animation Sunday and My Friend Dahmer.
Beast is screening as part of LIFF 31. For tickets visit LeedsFilmCity.com. Image source: Variety.com