Thursday, April 04, 2024

Bonello’s The Beast

In the year 2044, “cleaning your DNA” is a lot like what taking the Covid vaccine was in 2021. You just cannot get a decent job without doing it. To us, it looks and sounds more like clearing your karma. Regardless, the totally-not-dystopian government makes life difficult for those who decline, so people will not be as prone to the extreme emotions that led to the 2025 civil war. Reluctantly, Gabrielle Monnier undergoes the process in Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast, which opens tomorrow in New York.

While immersed in the treatment, Monnier will revisit her past lives in 1910 Paris and 2014 Hollywood, so she can work through her trauma-karma. In all three time-periods, her life is apparently quantum-entangled with the of Louis (Lewanski in the 2014 storyline). Back in the early 20
th Century, they were blue-blooded French socialites, who were incapable of commencing an illicit affair due to circumstances and their own timidity. During the 2014 sequences, she is an aspiring actress house-sitting in the Hollywood Hills, while he is an angry, entitled lout, on the verge of committing a horrible violent crime. Yet, back in the future, they are both outsiders, struggling to fit in.

Somehow, all these lifetimes and timelines are inter-connected, at least according to science. Bonello identifies Henry James’ novella
The Beast in the Jungle as the inspiration for the film, but it reads more like a rejoinder than a riff. In Monnier’s past lifetimes, there very definitely was a beast, or something, out there, which was undeniably dangerous.

The Beast
is undeniably uneven and erratic, but somehow those flaws help make it such a weirdly powerful film. Eventually, the 1910 sequences become incredibly surreal, in ways Lanthimos, Gondry, and Aronofsky should appreciate. Yet, the 2014 time-frame ultimately overpowers and overshadows everything else in the film. Without exaggeration, these scenes constitute the most breathlessly intense home invasion horror film of the year. This is a white-knuckle viewing experience.

Lea Seydoux is amazing throughout as the various Monniers. She creates three distinct personas and yet there are all identifiably the same. George MacKay is also massively creepy as the Lewanski iteration of Louis. The apparent disconnect with his other mild mannered Louis characterizations makes it even more unsettling.

The Beast
is a film that will probably have frequent revival screenings over the ensuing years and develop a passionate following. It is a very strange film, but also hauntingly arresting. Highly recommended for fans of Bonello, David Lynch and the other aforementioned filmmakers, The Beast opens tomorrow (4/5) in New York, at the IFC Center.