On the coast of Jersey under the hot June sun the waves break against the sand and the rocks, the grass blows in the wind, and the candles flicker by shrines of wood and flowers raised in the memory of the three girls who have gone missing within the last four years, while in the church choir, ethereal voices raised in praise to the powers above, Moll is singled out by the leader, her mother, to be told that she needs to do better.

It’s Moll’s twenty seventh birthday, and everyone is celebrating but her, uncomfortable at her own party, around her family, in her own skin, a stranger who everybody recognises and nobody knows. The moment stolen by her sister’s announcement that she is expecting twins, Moll would happily have given it to her if only she asked and when the call is made for champagne Moll instead reaches for the vodka.

Escaping for a night on the town, she dances the night away with a stranger who pushes her further than she wants to go but she is rescued by Pascal. He’s serious and independent, symbolising everything her life isn’t, dangerous, fun, unrestricted, answering to nobody but himself, and best of all, her mother deeply dislikes him.

When the body of a fourth girl is found in a shallow ditch by a potato field and Moll is told that Pascal was a person of interest in the previous inquiries, she gives him an alibi, standing by him when she is challenged by the police, but with her lot now thrown in with a near stranger, Pascal’s past will begin to haunt Moll as much as her own.

Written and directed by Michael Pearce and with its Scottish premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival, the title Beast is ambiguous; does it refer to Moll, reaching beyond the bars of the cage her family keep her in, is it the wild and untamed Pascal, or is it the unknown assailant who stalks the island community and has so far avoided detection?

An unconventional approach to the premise, with Moll on the periphery of the police investigation and with only her feelings to act on rather than inside information, Taboo’s Jessie Buckley blasts every emotion she feels across the screen, every conflict, every urge to do the right thing as she is boxed in and pushed around and judged by those around her. Can she trust herself, carrying the shame and resentment of her own past and devoid of love her whole adult life?

Where Pascal is concerned, no; he takes the upper hand from their first meeting, intervening without permission, Moll willingly climbing into his Land Rover almost without thought. Asked by Pascal if she can keep a secret Moll returns that trust without hesitation, an immediate connection which can only be felt between two who have spent their lives as outsiders, Hangmen’s Johnny Flynn a primal force as the bruised and capable Pascal, but capable of what?

Carried almost entirely by the compelling performances of two leads, Utopia‘s Geraldine James is frosty as Moll’s stern mother Hilary, unable to show anything other than disapproval, Pearce balancing the atmosphere of the isolated location and the ambiguous characters to keep the audience guessing in this intense and sometimes shocking psychological thriller.

Beast is on general release from Friday 27th April

The Glasgow Film Festival continues until Sunday 4th March



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