Friday 28 September 2018

Beast ★★★★☆

Early 2016, the world was introduced to an actor who, up until that point, was vastly underestimated and criminally underused. Folk-musician Johnny Flynn was performing in Hangmen at the National Theatre, which was broadcast live to cinemas across the UK during March. As the charmingly terrifying Mooney, Flynn showed us that he could bring an irresistible likeability to even the darkest and most frightening characters. It seems like writer/director Michael Pearce must’ve experienced Flynn’s performance because his new film Beast seems to be custom-made for Flynn.

The fantastic Jessie Buckley plays Moll, a lonely young woman living a tortured and isolated existence under the control of her cold-hearted mother. One night, she decides to escape – albeit temporarily – and go out on the lash in a local nightclub, where she meets a young man. This man promptly attempts to sexually assault her, at which point a rifle-toting rogue swoops in to save the day. This man, Pascal (Johnny Flynn), seems to have some secrets. As Moll’s hometown is currently living in fear of a loose serial killer/rapist, is Moll getting closer than she thinks to the perpetrator? And are Moll’s own secrets enough to suggest she could live up to the film’s title herself…

Beast may seem like a pretty bog-standard mystery from the above synopsis, but there is a haunting beauty to the film that makes it far much more than it appears on the surface. Visually, this is a stunning film that pulls you right into Moll and Pascal’s world and sweeps you up in their romance and shared darkness. While not being a ‘romance’, Beast is certainly one of the most accurately portrayed stories of love I’ve seen in cinema for a long time – especially evident when Moll begins to be presented with the possibility that her partner is a sadistic ‘beast’ and she continues to be blind to it. There’s certainly a romance to the film’s setting, too. Shot on location in Jersey, the seaside aesthetic of the film certainly brings an old-school feel to proceedings, while also projecting a powerful juxtaposition of the calm, inviting warmth of a seaside town against the wake of a serial killer.

But all that aside, the film’s highlight – and the key that elevates the film to a considerably higher-scoring area – is the two lead performances. Jessie Buckley is phenomenal as the quiet yet strong-willed Moll, but the film absolutely belongs to Johnny Flynn. Flynn’s presence is felt throughout every minute of the film, even when he isn’t on screen – and his incredible performance truly keeps us on the edge of our seat, guessing until the very end whether or not he is the titular beast behind the ghastly murders shaking the town. 

2018 brought us two chillers months apart, both British and both unforgettable. Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s Ghost Stories is certainly the better of the pair – and certainly one of the best films of 2018 generally – but Beast is almost-equally remarkable and definitely one that will haunt you for days after watching. Beast is a strong reminder that there are still some fresh, passionate creatives out there who want to give us more than the usual blockbuster fare – and it’s reassuring that indie cinema still has power.

Sam Love

Beast at CeX

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