British TV director Michael Pearce does a more than decent job with his first feature. Like the best of British crime dramas, it takes its time to build the characters and the premise, has some top-notch actors, makes good use of the Jersey landscape and genuinely keeps you guessing right up until the end.
The story begins with sunshine and balloons as Moll (Jessie Buckley) celebrates her birthday with a party hosted by her happy, normal, middle-class family. The first crack appears when her sister Polly (Shannon Tarbet) takes the opportunity to announce her pregnancy and so steals the attention away. Moll flees, ending up dancing the night away at a club and meeting Jersey native Pascal (Johnny Flynn). The macabre undercurrent to this normality is the search for a missing girl; she is the fourth to go missing and all the others have turned up dead.
Beast is a good title as, as the story progresses, we begin to wonder who is most deserving of that epithet. Moll has a hidden past of violence that she struggles to reconcile. Her mother Hilary (Geraldine James) controls her with constant genteel denigration. Pascal, although the closest you can get to indigenous on Jersey, is a non-conformist and is treated with suspicion. Before long, Moll is caught up in the investigation of the murders as Pascal becomes a prime suspect.
What works well about this film as a psychological thriller, is that it keeps you guessing right up until the end as to who the monster is. The eerie backdrop of Jersey and the integration of unsettling memories or hallucinations builds the tension. Buckley is excellent as Moll, encompassing a youthful innocence as well as potentially unhinged menace. Flynn is believable as both a possible murderer and a love interest, hitting just the right note as the kind of man you hope your daughter doesn’t bring home.
The ending is definitive but ambiguous enough that you can draw your own conclusions. I have my own theory of who the protagonist really is, built from small clues dotted through the story. I might be wrong though, which is fine. The film was an enjoyable and intense ride nonetheless.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.