“Beast” scores as a masterful debut thriller
Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2017; R for disturbing violent content, profanity and some sexuality; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: Making-of documentary
SET ON the beautiful British Channel island of Jersey, “Beast” tells the story of an almost-pretty 20-something misfit named Moll (Jessie Buckley), whose constrained life revolves around her family, specifically her controlling mother (Geraldine James) and a father who suffers from dementia.
One night, as she struggles to fend off a persistent dance partner she’s met in a pub, Moll is rescued by a rugged, grubby fellow with a shotgun. This is Pascal (Johnny Flynn), whose rough good looks and uncouth wildness offer a stark contrast, and a seductive magnet, for Moll. To her proper family’s horror, Moll enters into a love affair with the totally unacceptable Pascal. Meanwhile, news is spreading about the disappearance of a young woman after a series of unsolved brutal rape/murders have taken place on the island. Before long, Pascal is a chief suspect. Is he guilty? Moll isn’t sure, but decides to stand by her man, at least partially due to an incident of violence for which she was responsible in her past.
Writer/director Michael Pearce’s debut feature film is a riveting, disturbing thriller, and his two stars (also in their first feature appearances) serve him extremely well. Supporting roles are also beautifully enacted, especially James and Irish actress Olwen Fouéré, who virtually steals the entire film in her one scene as a police inspector from the mainland who questions Moll about one of the murders.
The Lionsgate Films’ Blu-ray looks very good, with skin tones always natural and details crisp and clear. Though likely shot digitally, there are many daylight scenes that have a soft, textured, almost painterly grain to them. The DTS-HD audio is also quite satisfying, with dialogue very sharp, sound effects perfectly balanced and musical cues just right.
The extras on this disc are far from generous, with a stills slide show, and a rather short making-of documentary. Writer/director Pearce says he wants his “audience to be heartbroken by the end” of “Beast,” because they care so much about the protagonists. He adds that he “tried to create a timeless aesthetic for the film.” He describes Moll’s motivation as “trying to atone for a crime she committed in her youth.”
Cinematographer Benjamin Kračun discusses his efforts to present what looks like the “real world,” but hinting there is something slightly off about it, noting the film’s having a sort of “mystical fairytale” as its core. Actors Flynn and Buckley praise Pearce as a director and share how much the screenplay captivated them.
— Peggy Earle