The boundary between man and animal is explored in Michael Pearce's compelling, sensual and pleasingly off-kilter Beast
Beast, Michael Pearce’s feature debut, opens with Moll (Jessie Buckley) telling us in voiceover that the reason that she loved killer whales as a child was because “they always seem to be smiling.” That is unless they’re captive whales, and then, instead of smiling, they smash their teeth against the glass smearing it with blood. Like the captive killer whales she loves so much, Moll is similarly trapped behind glass: stuck in her family home with an overbearing mother (Geraldine James) and working a tourist guide job she hates on Jersey, an island she can’t seem to escape. Moll’s mother’s suffocating hold on her daughter is partially due to a childhood incident when Moll stabbed her school bully and partially due to there being a serial killer stalking the island, raping and murdering young women.
Moll’s attraction to dangerous things that smile leads her to fall for Pascal (Johnny Flynn), a rough and tumble hunter-gather, keenly attuned to Jersey’s wild landscape. As the couple’s relationship escalates, Moll leaves behind her family and community, wholly giving herself over to her animal attraction to Pascal.
Although her new lover incites an uninhibited desire in her – first for sex and then for violence – Moll is more than a match for Pascal. “Watch out for her,” Moll’s sister tells him, “she’s a wild one.” Pearce’s ability to continually destabilise and undermine the audience’s allegiances is truly masterful, and as Moll’s restraint is peeled away, we’re left wondering who really is the island’s beast.
An exploration of just how flimsy the boundary is between man and animal, Beast is a thriller with a nasty bite. As the murders and accusations continue, the film escalates wildly, ending in pure and brilliant melodrama.
Beast screened at Glasgow Film Festival 2018
Released 27 Apr by Altitude