Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sundance ’18: Beast

For some reason, women have been known to date and even marry notorious serial killers. Moll is not like that. She is genuinely uncertain whether her new lover might be a repeat murderer. Even if he is, she is not entirely sure how different they would be. Love and paranoia cohabitate in Michael Pearce’s Beast, which screens during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

Living with her judgmental, borderline-abusive family makes life a joyless existence for Moll. We can hardly blame her for bolting from her own stiltedly awkward birthday party. Rolling into the pub, she eventually locks eyes with Pascal, an unruly, hardscrabble descendant of Jersey Island’s original French landowners. Their attraction is immediate and the fact he will surely annoy her manipulative mother and condescending brother is a bonus.

Compounding their snobbery is the realistic fear of a serial killer stalking young girls on the island. The fourth disappeared on Moll’s birthday. Given his record (including a statutory charge), it is inevitable the police will try to pin the murders on Pascal. However, Moll will alibi him, even though she notices little details that start to stir her own suspicions. She also begins to doubt her own stability, especially in light of the violent school incident that continues to cast a shadow across her life.

Beast has been billed by some of its champions as a modern update on the Lodger-esque serial-killer-under-the-same-roof-style thriller, but it is more of a character study, not so different from the bullying fable, Pin Cushion. Moll has so much angst and resentment bottled up inside that it is indeed utterly harrowing to see it finally erupt. However, the film never really surprises, per se.

Regardless, Jessie Buckley’s performance as Moll has not been over-hyped. She is astonishingly fierce and frighteningly vulnerable as Moll. In contrast, Johnny Flynn is icily charismatic as Pascal, just like serial killers are supposed to be. Yet, Geraldine James might be the scariest of all as Moll’s Mommie Dearest (and taskmaster choir director), Hilary.

Frankly, Beast takes its time getting started and sometimes its slow burn is problematically slow. Still, the two co-leads maintain an absolutely magnetic hold on the screen. Recommended for fans of art-house serial killer films (something about the tone also brings to mind William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth), Beast screens again this Monday (1/22) in Provo and Tuesday (1/23) and next Saturday (1/27) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance.