Beast (Michael Pearce, 2017)
Among the trailers before my screening – which included a trailer for Beast — was an advert featuring villages walking along a twilight rural-ish road toward a beach at the bottom of a set of cliffs and then a series of black horses running toward them. I was reminding of an equivalent community parade in Broadchurch, and the disappearance and murder at the heart of that. (Lloyds claim we are not alone and that they are by our side, which is less convincing if they’ve closed your branch.)
Beast has a similar coastal setting, but Bergerac Jersey thirty years on, although the opening party could almost be set in the 1950s or 1970s, there are old fashioned pans and kettles in the kitchen and only the police have mobile phones. It is Moll’s birthday party, which she skips out in favour of a wild party down the road, and leads to her near rape. She is rescued by Pascal, a legit Jerseyan become horny-handed man of the soil and bit-of-rough handyman. She is smitten, although her police officer brother and stern mother will disapprove. There is also a serial murderer at lose on the island and Pascal is, inevitably, prime suspect.
The title suggests a trimmed fairy tale: Beauty and the Beast, with at first the assumption that Pascal is the Beast. But from the first (and repeated) moment of Moll finding a hair on her neck, things are not as cut and dried. Moll has a past, too, although she’s not a reliable guide to it. She may have had some kind of abuse, she may have been bullied, she may have stabbed someone in self-defence. She may, even, be the serial killer. She keeps dreaming or hallucinating deaths and strangulations. When she is led through the woods on a short cut by Pascal, we move into Little Red Riding Hood. But post Buffy, post Near Dark, post Angela Carter, we shouldn’t be clear which of them is the big bad wolf. And sometimes the maiden wants to lie down between the paws of the wolf.
Whilst the pace of the film builds considerably as it moves forward, it felt to me a little over determined: there are so many guns over the fireplace in the first act and not all of them are fired in the third. There is a problematic raising of the murderer being an immigrant vs. an underexplored idea of Pascal being a real Jersey person among, presumably white middle class incomers. There’s potential drink driving, seat belts, playing chicken as you speed towards the clifftop… Even in a small community, would a brother conduct an interview under caution of his sister? Would a more senior investigator (from the mainland) behave like that in the interview room? The payoff is rapid, and leaves as many questions unanswered as it asks. The acting seems fine, the point of view largely dominated by Moll, but the genre imperative is rather too by the numbers.