Rodrigo Sorogoyen is a key name in contemporary Spanish cinema and his latest feature The Beasts (As Bestas) does not disappoint. It’s a slow-burning thriller that unfolds in the Galician countryside, where the scenery is idyllic but the atmosphere hostile. Co-written by Sorogoyen and screenwriter Isabel Peña, it’s a timeless story of territorial disputes and xenophobia narrated with great skill and raw emotion.
Antoine (Denis Ménochet) and Olga (Marina Foïs) are a retired French couple who settle in a rural town in northern Spain where they produce and sell vegetables. In their spare time, they refurbish abandoned homes in the hope of encouraging people to come live in the village and revive the dwindling community. Their efforts, however, are not appreciated by the villagers. On the contrary, their keen involvement in local matters is seen as nothing more than arrogant meddling.
Their next door neighbours, the Anta brothers (Luis Zahera and Diego Anido), become increasingly hostile when the couple vote against selling the land for the instalment of wind turbines. Such a plan would destroy Antoine and Olga’s ecological dream, but would allow the Antas to make enough money to start a new life, away from the drudgery of the fields. A crescendo of provoking and aggressive exchanges ensues. Behind the petty neighbourly conflicts, there are profoundly disturbing and complex sociopolitical matters being exposed.
Based on a true story, the film is not only a powerful thriller, but it acts as a parable for the problematic nature of notions such as cultural identity, or the debate on rural versus urban life. The Beasts also denounces the apathy of the police force, and invites reflection on the narrow-minded mentality and desperation that plagues lower social classes.
One of the film’s most effective elements is its ability to maintain an open debate, even when it’s obvious who the villains are. The contrasting viewpoints of the natives and the outsiders, as well as their different values and ambitions, are equally understandable and presented in a fair manner. Even at their most evil, the baddies are as three-dimensional as the well-meaning protagonists.
There are some minor letdowns in the plot, such as the film slowing down considerably in the final act, and some key elements in the case fizzling to nothing rather than adding to the drama. These points are not completely detrimental to the film, however, as they do amp up the story’s starkly realistic take, reminding the audience that disappointment and lack of progress are part of the game.
Dark, brutal and thought-provoking, The Beasts masterfully shows how hell and paradise can be one and the same place.
The Beasts is released in select cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema on 24th March 2023.
Watch the trailer for The Beasts here: