Murder mysteries have been done to death. There’s an unknown killer, a sharp or drunk detective, and an area filled with clues and suspects. Although the genre is entertaining, the formula is exhausted. But in the debut feature from Jersey-born filmmaker Michael Pearce, Beast cuts that formula apart and sticks it back together in weird and interesting ways.
On the secluded island of Jersey, a killer’s on the loose. There’s an island-wide paranoia about who it could be. We follow Moll (Jessie Buckley), an uncomfortable 20-something living at home with her snobbish family. She is bullied by pretty much everyone she encounters – until she meets Pascal (Johnny Flynn), a Hemingway-esque handyman, and falls in love. But as the island paranoia grows, Moll starts to wonder: is Pascal the killer?
Although the premise doesn’t stray from the genre, the characters are far from ordinary. Pearce delves into a more psychological route, from the perspective of Moll who is mentally perturbed by the people around her. There’s rarely a sweet soul in the director’s vision of Jersey, which means the audience isn’t allowed to breathe comfortably. Pearce provides the viewer with an overwhelming sympathy for the protagonist and her tortuous anxieties. She’s like Carrie without powers.
Guided through her experience, everything around her feels loud. Each sound is amplified, every little noise potent enough to unnerve Moll as well as the viewer. The music is just as booming, underlying the movie with the deathly tones of a women’s church choir. It’s no surprise that the music and sound design were both the responsibility of composer Gunnar Oskarsson, who beautifully captures Moll’s tense point-of-view. And with Benjamin Kracun’s dark and uncomfortable cinematography, Beast unfolds like a stylish nightmare.
The feature could have probably been shorter, and the end feels like Pearce is crippling under the pressure to provide answers. It would have been far more unsettling to leave them hanging, especially since the murder mystery is not the core of the film – it’s about Moll’s character. Buckley’s performance is painfully beautiful like she’s constantly walking on a floor of nails, and she’s successful in transferring that anxiety to the audience.
Beast is a brilliant but stressful panic attack of a movie, and Pearce’s hands never leave the viewer’s throat with his remarkable debut. This is not a film for those who believe in the inherent good in humanity since every character is, in their own way, beastly.
Beast is released nationwide on 27th April 2018.
Watch the trailer for Beast here: