The scenes between the film’s stars are electric, the island landscapes haunting and the atmospherics are right in this stylish psychodrama. 2 stars out of 4.
On the small, scenic Channel Island of Jersey, there’s a serial killer on the loose — not a good time for a young woman to be dating a strange man who looks fresh out of prison. That’s what happens in “Beast,” and even if it has B-movie trappings and the tension wanes in the second half, it’s a stylish psychodrama.
After a troubled childhood, Moll is now in her 20s, confined at home with her family, who are so unpleasant that even Charles Manson would seem like good company in comparison. During her own birthday party, where she is treated like a nonperson, Moll decides to venture out to a nightclub. Afterward, she and some loser guy head to the beach, but he wants more than Moll is willing to offer.
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That’s when the scraggly Pascal, shotgun in hand, comes to the rescue, and Moll is almost immediately smitten. Trouble is, most of the locals suspect Pascal of being the serial killer, a revelation that only heightens Moll’s pent-up sexual longings and angry impulses. She cannot resist him, regardless of the consequences.
The scenes between Moll and Pascal are electric, thanks to the beautifully calibrated performance of Jessie Buckley, who plays Moll with subtle shadings of innocence, defiance, desperation and menace. Pascal’s role is not as deeply thought out on the page, but Johnny Flynn’s rakish, almost sinister charm keeps us interested — and guessing.
Director Michael Pearce makes the island landscapes haunting, and his well-crafted film gets the atmospherics right. The spell, though, gets broken a bit in the second half, when Pascal disappears for too long of a stretch. It has the effect of making the ending seem almost tacked on, not quite as shocking as it could have been.
★★ “Beast,” with Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn. Directed by Michael Pearce. 107 minutes. Rated R. Meridian and AMC Seattle 10.