Beast

 

starstar

 


A forceful but unconvincing drama set on the island of Jersey.

 
Beast

Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn

 

It's nothing new for a drama to have at its heart a relationship in which a young woman is attracted to a man who might prove to be a threat to her - the threat being due to the possibility that he is the person responsible for a series of unsolved local murders. This is the situation that Michael Pearce envisages for this, his first feature film for the cinema on which he is credited as both writer and director. But, quite apart from the novelty of setting the tale on Jersey (his own birthplace), Pearce opts to develop the story in unexpected ways.

 

The young woman here is the 27-year-old Moll (Jessie Buckley) who still lives with her parents and is aware that local policeman Clifford (Trystan Gravelle) is keen to woo her. But Moll takes up with another man, Pascal (Johnny Flynn), who lacks any social standing and thus earns the disapproval of her mother (Geraldine James). Consequently, it is in defiance of her mother that Moll sets up home with Pascal. But then the killer claims a fourth victim and Clifford sees fit to warn Moll that Pascal has a disturbing police record and is a prime suspect in the case. So far, so conventional until we learn that Moll herself was expelled from school at the age of fourteen for knifing a fellow pupil, albeit that she claimed that her action was in self defence. Whatever the truth about that, there is clearly something wild and disturbed about Moll and, if the film's title would seem to point to Pascal, it could actually refer to her.

 

Given this development, the material suggests a psychological drama that could well be intriguing but Pearce brings another slant to the tale. He has said that he sees the story as a fable or as a fairy tale for grown-ups   but, whatever his aims, the tone that he adopts pitches everything into melodrama. The music score by Jim Williams is doubtless what Pearce asked for, but it never lets even the most mundane moments go by without trying to build up  unjustified tension. It's on a par with this that Pearce twice over introduces sudden scenes of definite menace which prove to be dreams. This kind of highlighting falsifies what we are being asked to believe in to such an extent that the potential psychological depth goes for nothing. Furthermore, much of the writing simply lacks conviction (the talented Olwen Fouere so good in 2015 in The Survivalist has a cameo conducting a police interrogation but as scripted it is the most unlikely scene of its kind that I can recall). Relative newcomers Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn might well have stardom ahead but here they are fighting a losing battle against material which in more ways than one lets them down.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Trystan Gravelle, Geraldine James, Charley Palmer Rothwell, Hattie Gotobed, Shannon Tarbet, Emily Taaffe, Olwen Fouere.

 

Dir Michael Pearce, Pro Ivana MacKinnon, Lauren Dark and Kristian Brodie, Screenplay Michael Pearce, Ph Benjamin Kracun, Pro Des Laura Ellis-Cricks, Ed Maya Maffoli, Music Jim Williams, Costumes Jo Thompson.

 

Film4/BFI/a Stray Bear Films production-Altitude Film Distribution.
107 mins. UK. 2017. Rel: 27 April 2018. Cert. 15.