Beast Michael Pearce
(UK 2018) Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn
viewed Tyneside Cinema 1st May 2018; ticket £9.75
just like a muppet
In the first scene proper of Michael Pearce’s Beast, Moll, set up in a a pre-title establishment shot us sweet choir girl, drops a glass and picking up a fragment from the floor, crushes the shard into her hand, clenching her fist as the blood oozes out of the wound. At this point we know we are into a land of familiar tropes and clichés.
And so indeed it comes to pass that Pearce takes us through many of the tricks of the domestic horror book of tropes, a veritable tick list of affects and effects piped through the scenario with predictable regularity. A scenario fed by a script that is so thin, it has to be bulked out with paranoid dream/fantasy sequences imagined by Moll – masked nasty men on the prowl; so thin it is padded out with a little Scandi noir police stuff. When we come to final sequence, the aftermath of the road crash, we have the crawling bit. Homage to Lars von Trier, where the two protagonists crawl along the road, Moll after Pascal whom she finally overtakes and to whom she delivers the coup de grace. A particularly silly scene, carried through with little conviction.
Moll is set up not only by the glass stunt but also by her voice over ( the only one she is permitted) during the opening scene of her birthday party barbeque. Here she tells about the way killer whales behave when their communication is disrupted in the confines of captivity: they go mad; self destructively mad. In this we learn something about Moll’s state of mind. She feels imprisoned, a captive in the house where she lives with her family. The problem with the film is that the script, after this one insight into how Moll sees/feels things, proceeds to relinquish her as an internalised state of mind. Beast (a titular nod to the Scandi noir recourse of the movie) abandons her to the mechanics of Pearce’s script and scenario.
The whole movie might have turned out better if Moll, directed by her own inner voice, and Pascale her psychopathic chum had thrown caution to the wind and like Lizzy Borden, massacred Moll’s unpleasant family. At least the Pearce’s film would have made some macabre dysfunctional sense and consistency of line. The problem with Beast is that it is all over the place, moving from genre to type, chopping and changing style, seemingly at the whim of Pearce.
Pearce gives us a little bit of this and a little bit of that: a little bit of class tension, with Moll’s unpleasant high-falutin family with their incomers snobbish regard for ‘locals’. Tension. There is the usual serial killer out to enjoy himself. The murder enquiry is whisked in with a little scandi-noir; the arm STICKING OUT by the potato field; Moll’s police interview by a haircut with serious attitude. Pearce stitches the farrago together with a swath of landscape stuff that will please the Jersey Tourist Board.
Pearce is unable to make his meanderings cohere around character or insight. Like the Muppet that she is Moll simply conforms to the mechanics of a script that leads her by the nose from one situation to another. First trapped in her family, then liberated by Pascal, pursued by the dark forces, finally allowed redemption.
Redemption is of course these days the conventional career destination for any female movie character. It is the ideological barometer of the times. The expectation. And Beast is very much a film that reflects all the social and political shibboleths of the age. Times will change; they always do. But for the moment it’s a fixture of scripting, that the woman, like the proletarian type before her in soviet films, will monopolise survival rites, often as the hero. It makes life easier for the angle-saxon male filmmaker, and reassures the audience. adrin neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org