The feature début from Michael Pearce is an ambitious psychological drama with a dangerous edge that falls apart a little into the final act, yet the performances are so strong and scary that it doesn’t matter.
The locale is unfamiliar, as Pearce films much of this on summery Jersey in the Channel Islands where he grew up. He also slightly draws upon the facts in the case of the so-called ‘Beast of Jersey’, and adds a heavy dose of sexual obsession.
The real star here is Jessie Buckley, an Irish singer and actor who went from a TV talent show to Shakespeare’s Globe and the BBC. She plays Moll, a woman in her early 20s, introduced in a small island community and virtually shunned by guests at her own birthday party. Pearce gradually reveals Moll’s troubled past and why her Mum Hilary (Geraldine James) treats her like a child. After a while it’s hard not to fear her almost as much as we fear for her.
Moll escapes the celebration and, after a night of wild drinking and clubbing, she’s saved from an aggressive stranger’s grasp by another stranger, the brooding Pascal (Johnny Flynn, who really knows how to smoulder). They begin a friendship that soon turns intensely physical, and she futilely tries to stay away from him, even as he, of course, becomes the prime suspect in a series of murders.
As we now know that everyone is afraid of our protagonist or treats her like a fool, and her relationship with her mother is positively suffocating, this one’s most iffy aspect eventually seems perfectly logical: yes, Moll would run away to the mainland with Pascal even if he WAS a serial killer. Why not? What’s a girl supposed to do?
However, once we’ve established this, Pearce then doesn’t really know how to end his film, and settles for lots of screaming, dashing around, screeching brakes and even a bit of weird fourth-wall-breaking.
Nevertheless, this is still worth catching for the strong work from James (the most familiar player here), the frightening Flynn, and Buckley, who’s obviously destined for big things, even if her role could well disturb Hollywood’s casting agents.
Rated M. Beast is in cinemas now.