My world view is that damaged individuals can be saved, even from themselves. The film debut of writer/director Michael Pearce has other ideas. His film “Beast” is based loosely on the crime novel, “ The Beast of New Jersey”. A constant foreboding awaits you, as does a surprising and arresting ending.
Roadside memorials, church choirs, volunteer search parties scouring fields, and bar strobe lights set the scene. A series of young girls have been killed, but Moll, our protagonist still lives at home at 27. She is dealing with a formidable mother, a cognitively impaired father, and a self-history to overcome.
Dream sequences prepare us for revelations of teen assault on a classmate with Moll holding the scissors. In one of her mother’s many directives, we learn of a school expulsion and juvenile detention time spent. And then there is the sexual abuse hinted at at the hands of her detective brother, played so possessively by Trystan Gravelle.
Moll longs for love and liberation. We see that she deals with emotional pain through self-mutilation. Here, glass shards pressed into her palms. Her lashing out as a thirteen-year old is attributed to bullying. A decade and a half later, we see her act out over her sister upstaging her birthday party by announcing that she and her husband are expecting twins. Moll seeks affirmation and she finds it in an off-the-grid man, named Pascal.
Pascal is a charming, wild , rabbit-poaching, iconoclast. There is a rogue-aura yet creepy attraction about him. He is menacing in his cliff speeding, poor impulse control, and general love of danger.
He seems to understand the romantic elements of surf spume and kisses on high promontories that dash to the sea. They walk through dark meadows, and he tells her what a good person she is. His family members are surfers and potato farmers, but none are around. He did jail time for an assault on a fourteen-year-old girl. Premonitions of dead owls and bunnies are strewn on many screen frames. So are female hands reaching out of muddy, shallow graves. Horror tropes are used creatively in windblown curtains and heavy drum music.
Moll, for her part, works as a guide on what Pascal calls “ granny wagons”, vacation-goers touring the island. She tells Pascal that her mother tried to “ beat the bad out of me.” Moll sings in the church choir that her mother directs. “ I need more from you, Moll”, is her one refrain.
Geraldine James is a mother that does not mince words. She has an uncanny way of humiliating Moll in lieu of forgiving her. “ You can’t change the rules because someone has shown an interest.” She ends this put down with, “ May be I’ve been too soft on you.” She is all about “mom control” .
Moll invites Pascal to a country club dinner, where he is chastised for his clothing, black jeans. Moll toasts her disapproving family with “ to my family for everything you have done for me. I forgive you.” She and Pascal are told to get out, and Moll packs up and moves in with him.
Resolution never seems to come. Moll revisits her scissor-scarred victim, and lies for Pascal to her detective brother. She mercilessly beats a rabbit that does not die immediately from her hunting shot. We see Moll’ s beastly side. When Pascal tells her that she is a good person, Moll flashes back with an angry, “ You don’t know me!” Pascal intervenes when a bully gangs up on an immigrant, and we are lead to believe that we don’t know either of these violent lovers. The foreboding is kept in play by axes being raised and wrestling-like love-making played out.
The final sequence is with its blood-pounding score is choreographed to be a real shocker. We remember the taunts of her brother: “ You think because you take care of your father and you sing in the choir that you can fool others that you are someone else!?”
Two damaged protagonists keep the drama ramped. Moll’s angery screams are some of the more horrific seen on-screen, as are Pascal’s accusatory words, “ You can’t tear my life apart because you don’t like the weather.”
Yellow police tape, a night breeze, and a mouth stuffed with burial soil, and a stray neck hair metaphor will not be for every film goer, but I was mesmerized.