'Beast' film review: Jessie Buckley shines in this twisted romance
Part psychological drama and part crime thriller, "Beast" (screening during the 44th Seattle International Film Festival) leverages its disturbing plot into a mesmerizing and nerve-wracking portrait of a damaged woman forced to reckon with her true nature.
In short: Trouble young Moll (Jessie Buckley) instantly finds a kindred spirit in Pascal, a secretive loner. The burgeoning romance between the two outsiders is threatened as Pascal becomes the prime suspect in a series of brutal murders.
Despite all its moving parts - a family drama of strained relations and an unsolved murder spree - the foundation of "Beast" is wholly rooted in the relationship between Moll and Pascal. If this core aspect of the film didn't work, everything else would have been rendered meaningless. Writer-director Michael Pearce has exquisitely crafted a story that is first and foremost a romance, and a thriller or drama second.
"Beast" beautifully and gracefully pulls Moll and Pascal together, using delicate moments to craft a tender romance. Certain moments are actually and unexpectedly quite sweet and tender. Moll is so free-spirited and carefree with Pascal - then so terribly tightly wound when she's under the thumb of her controlling family. An undeniable and natural electricity fills the screen anytime Moll and Pascal share the scene.
It's not often a film so eloquently impresses the binding and immediate connection between its lead characters - a pair of loners who immediately connect. Everything about the chemistry of this film adds up - how a troubled young woman could fall for a murder suspect, why he appeals to her and how the two complement each other.
With only the absolute minimal amount of dialogue, "Beast" clearly defines Moll and the internal struggle she is barely able to contain. Actress Jessie Buckley's nuanced performance conveys Moll's quiet desperation from her first moments on screen. She carefully balances Moll's blissful infatuation - as well as simmering instability she constantly tries to keep under control. Whether or not Pascal actually committed the crimes isn't as important as the effects of the investigation on isolated, friendless and emotionally fragile Moll.
The serial killer b-plot isn't just some lazy tangent - it's a dramatic impetus that forces Moll not only to question her relationship with Pascal, but the fabric of her own moral fiber. Her disturbing visions (very much akin to vivid nightmares) aren't just viscerally troubling because of the thoughts of graphic violence that plagues her - Moll's role in her own visions is far more disconcerting.
Final verdict: Powered by a strong lead performance, "Beast" vacillates between a touching romance, a grisly crime thriller and strained family drama to present a meticulously layered and complex character study.
"Beast" screens during the 44th Seattle International Film Festival. This psychological thriller has a running time of 106 minutes and is rated R for disturbing violent content, language and some sexuality.