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Beast review - a meticulously crafted, manipulative journey

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Driven by two alluring yet unnerving lead characters, Beast continues to pull you in, even as you're desperate to look away.

At the heart of this film are two damaged souls desperate for an escape. Moll (Jessie Buckley) and Pascal (Johnny Flynn) find solace in one another, much to the disgust of Moll’s middle-class family. But as Pascal comes under blame for a recent string of murders, Moll must confront her inner demons before making her judgement.

From the moment these characters are introduced, an instant attraction and curiosity is ignited but before long, a disconnect begins to grow and with it, the audience finds itself falling deeper into the warped rabbit hole; one where trust and paranoia overlap.

This unusual combination comes as a result of two incredible lead performances. Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn’s electric onscreen chemistry escalates with each scene, exuding a different emotion with every exchange. This supplies the film with an enticing air of uncertainty.

That is, uncertainty in regard to direction, intention, who to trust and who to believe. The subtleties in their performances lull the audience into a false sense of security in one breath, before an explosion of animalistic rage rips them out of it in the next, leaving viewers floating in a purgatory of reality and fantasy until the film’s end.

Like these performances, each scene is enriched with meaning; something that, no doubt, comes as a result of Michael Pearce’s inspiring direction. The film interchanges between warm and cold, light and dark, safety and danger effortlessly, only drawing attention to these contrasts when beneficial to its desired effect. Through a reoccurring focus on the stunning but harsh landscapes of Jersey, Pearce captures the film’s themes and tone perfectly, serving a reminder that beneath the surface of natural beauty, is a threat.

Warranting just as much recognition as his directorial efforts, Michael Pearce deserves high praise for his writing. The film’s narrative functions within a complex system of manipulation, both of the characters within the fictional world and of the spectators in the cinema theatre. As the characters control each other’s behaviour through various degrees of emotional manipulation, the story’s form is beguiling its audience and manipulating perceptions.  

Cleverly constructed through a combination of jarring narrative devices, vivid dream sequences, undependable perspectives and disorientating camerawork, the line between reality and fiction begins to blur, providing a unique and almost dangerously captivating viewing experience.

As the film nears its end, the age-old question of nature versus nurture begins to surface. Is there such a thing as innate evilness or are people a product of their conditions? The answer to this question, in classic mystery-thriller style, is left open to interpretation. At the end of it all, Beast will be a different experience for each viewer; the film acts as a self-reflexive experience just as much as it is an exploration of its characters.

As well as being a beautifully warped and manipulative thrill ride, Beast is the host of two powerhouse performances, and it is a stunning feature-length debut from writer/director Michael Pearce.

Beast is out in cinemas now, distributed by Altitude Film Distribution.

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