In the chilly, windswept small village landscape that young Moll resides in, newcomer actress Jessie Buckley plays her perfectly. Her strands of red hair are constantly blown into her face and her translucent cheeks blush against the cold air effortlessly.
That she’s a relative outsider in her own community — partly because she makes no attempt to fit into the rigorous role her somewhat wealthy family wants her to embody — makes her character even more of an interesting character exploration in Michael Pearce’s new film Beast.
Her discomfort with her lifestyle is exemplified early on when during a birthday party thrown for her, she shirks at her brother’s genial compliments and runs away to a dance club by herself.
Stealing away with someone as dawn arises and following him to a sand dune is never a good idea, made even worse when his sexual advances become predatory and forced. From out of the distance, she’s saved by the enigmatic and dour Pascal (Johnny Flynn). Like Moll, Pascal is even further removed from society. Often covered in dirt and reeking from his job as a field tender on his farm, Pascal is, naturally, the first person everyone suspects when a rash of child murders ravages their community.
As the investigation heats up (and Pascal is actually arrested and questioned about the murders), Moll finds herself drawn to Pascal and the couple find themselves continually at odds with the community.
However, the crime aspect of Pearce’s screenplay in Beast is treated as background novice or a sinister way to place his already idiosyncratic couple at arm’s length from the niceties of the townsfolk. This is exaggerated in a brilliantly conceived and acted scene from Buckley when she actually shows up to the funeral of the latest murdered young child and gives the mother an accommodating hug. And all while her boyfriend is behind bars as the prime suspect.
Chased into the parking lot by bullish men at the funeral, they catch up to her and instead of a tense showdown, Buckley turns and lets out an agonized, lengthy scream that stops the men dead in their tracks. Unable to respond or even make sense of such a ferocious act, they stumble away and leave her be. It’s this type of unusual reaction that permeates Beast, steering away from the procedural aspect and instead illuminating the emotional-tug-of-war brewing just beneath the surface of a so-called “normal” lifestyle.
As his debut film, filmmaker Pearce has created a layered and surprising effort. Like fellow director Andrea Arnold, Pearce’s kitchen-sink realism extends beyond the natural environment and into the fractured, emotionally complex interior of the film’s characters. Beast eventually winds into some very dark matters of the human heart, but up until that point, the film mostly proves that darkness is being constantly pulled apart and berated for trying to follow one’s own heart.
Beast opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, May 18 at the Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano.