“What’s wrong with you?”
Jersey islander Moll hears this often, and her reactions — wincing, wounded, resigned — make us realize she’s been hearing it for years, if not all her life.
Moll (Jessie Buckley of the recent A & E “War & Peace”) may sing in the art chorale, but the choir director (Geraldine James) seems to have it on the tip of her tongue…always. She’s her mother.
The cop (Trystan Gravelle) who fancies her doesn’t dare say it. But you know he thinks it.
Her oaf of a brother (Oliver Maltman) might trot it out just to hurt her. And her prettier, happily married sister (Shannon Tarbet) works the hardest at avoiding using those words. But even she looks over, looks down on and pities Moll, and has for years.
It’s no wonder shy, brittle Moll falls for the first guy who sticks up for her, the one everybody says is “bad news,” the young man who might give her story its title, “Beast.”
The feature film debut of Michael Pearce, “Beast” is about the monsters we think we recognize and the ones we’re creating, unknowingly, by neglect, oppression and simple failure to act. It’s about a torrid, liberating love affair consummated in the middle of a horrid serial killer investigation.
And right from the start, we and everybody else suspect Pascal (Johnny Flynn, who was young Albert Einstein in TV’s “Genius). As the old song says, “He’s a rebel and he’ll never be any good.”
She meets him as she’s fleeing a birthday party that sister Polly has just upstaged, and after a night of drinking and dancing and letting a lout get overfamiliar. Pascal interrupts what might become a sexual assault with the unthinking bravado of a brute. He’s toting a rifle at the time.
He’s crude, coarse and fearless, careless about his grooming and his attire, careful not to give away his name right away, conspiratorial in letting her know what he was doing with a rifle by the beach. He’s a poacher.
Moll, downtrodden at home, her family the very model of repressed English emotions which holds manners uber alles, is smitten.
“I love the way he smells.”
He’s gauche, tactless and profane, everything Moll (a bus tour guide when she’s not singing) and her family are not.
As the affair kicks off, two lost souls tearing into each other like starving cast-aways, Mom’s disapproval grows, sister tries to be encouraging and the cops start asking questions. Another girl has been abducted and murdered. The entire island seems to be picking out suspects and coming after them hammer and tong.
Pascal, a solitary misfit and “craftsman” (good with his hands), has a record. He is Suspect One.
Moll is questioned, confronted left and right. She is his alibi. We know she’s not telling the truth. What does she see that we don’t? What’s in her past that could explain her deeper understanding?
Pearce cast this well, with Buckley glorying in bullied Moll’s growing defiance. Moll quietly, resolutely and unfeelingly revels in wearing the evidence of her roll in the grass all over Mom’s white carpeting and furniture. Give the stubbly, unkempt Flynn a motorcycle and not the ancient diesel Land Rover he rambles about in and he could be a Johnny playing another Johnny — Brando’s anti-hero of “The Wild One.”
The mystery is less interesting than the revealing set-pieces — Moll’s first trip out poaching with Pascal, the escalating confrontations with her family, cops and neighbors.
“Beast” is hard to watch at times, from its graphic crime-scene photos to the pitiless way a rabbit is dispatched. But as cryptic as it aims to be, it’s not hard to follow. And yeah, that rabbit is a clue. Good thrillers don’t explain the psychoses involved. They show them.
This one lets you keep up, encourages you to guess ahead, and then surprises you with what comes AFTER what comes next.
MPAA Rating: R, gory violence, somewhat explicit sex, gore, alcohol abuse, profanity
Cast: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James, Trystan Gravelle
Credits:Written and directed by Michael Pearce. A Roadside Attraction/Film 4 release.
Running time: 1:47