Toronto 2017: Michael Pearce’s Beast

On Film / The Daily — Sep 17, 2017

Michael Pearce’s debut feature, Beast, is a “multi-layered, complex account of a fatal attraction between two complicated and fragile souls, Moll (Jessie Buckley) and Pascal (Johnny Flynn),” writes Kaleem Aftab for Cineuropa. “The action takes place on Jersey, where the islanders are being whipped up into a frenzy by the brutal murders being committed by a serial killer, a story thread that has echoes of the infamous Beast of Jersey, a child molester who evaded capture for a decade in the 1960s. Pearce expertly mixes genres—psychological thriller, horror and romance—to keep the story on a knife-edge as the police start to suspect the mysterious Pascal of being the perpetrator.”

“Upgrading a sleeping-with-the-enemy premise familiar from countless B-thrillers with a faintly mythic aura and cool psychosexual shading, Beast also sustains a fresh, frank feminine perspective through Jessie Buckley’s remarkable lead performance,” writes Variety’s Guy Lodge.

“The movie comes to a head with a final conversation at a beachside restaurant, an exhilaratingly clever and ambiguous scene in which we must decide what is happening and where our sympathies lie,” writes the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw.Beast is a title which might appear to promise horror or melodrama and there is a little of both. But there is always something subtler going on.”

“Taking the theme suggested by the title and really running with it, Buckley and Flynn both have terrifically expressive, interestingly not-quite-perfect faces, full of character and intelligence,” writes Leslie Felperin in the Hollywood Reporter. “Each projects a feral sexuality, a rangy angularity that’s reminiscent of graceful wild animals, beautiful but dangerous, and watching them at work is like seeing a superior wildlife documentary with sex and slaughter thrown in for good measure. In a good way.”

“The collision of two worlds is explosive,” agrees Screen’s Wendy Ide. “[A]t times, it feels like the earthy sensuality of Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights chafing against the buttoned up propriety of Joanna Hogg’s Archipelago.” More from Kevin Jagernauth (Playlist, C) and Brian Tallerico (RogerEbert.com).

Update, 9/18: For Marshall Shaffer at Vague Visages, Beast “proves frustrating since we’ve all seen this done before (and executed better). Buckley’s performance at least helps maintain attention, but all else is essentially a wash.”

Toronto 2017 index. For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.