Review: TIFF 2017: ‘Beast’ is in all of us Special

Posted Sep 19, 2017 by Sarah Gopaul
‘Beast’ is a modern-day fairy tale about an oppressed young woman who must determine if her lover is the hero or villain of her story.
A scene from  Beast
A scene from 'Beast'
Most modern-day fairy tales tend to still be a literal extension of the originals with enchanted settings, magical creatures and fantastic conclusions. However, there are less common instances in which the fabled elements serve as inspiration for a more complex narrative. The characters are representative of storybook personalities rather than exact replicas of their imaginary counterparts, allowing for more contemporary tales with familiar roots. In Beast, there are a number of fairy tale-type characters dealing with not very whimsical issues.
Moll (Jessie Buckley) resides on the lowest rung of her family’s ladder. Her mother and siblings have ensured she repent for an incident that occurred in her youth more than a decade ago by keeping her at their beck-and-call. The idea that she may want a social life of her own doesn’t occur to them or they simply don’t care. However, when Moll meets Pascal (Johnny Flynn) all that begins to change. He treats her like her own person and she begins to take that assertion home, where her family insists he’s bad news and clearly a bad influence. In the meantime, the small, idyllic isle of Jersey is reeling from the presence of a serial killer targeting young girls. Most concernedly, everyone’s top suspect is Pascal.
Moll is clearly a Cinderella-type character, governed by other members of her family and subdued into doing their constant bidding with a smile. But there’s no fairy godmother to provide useful advice or a carriage to take her away. And although Pascal appears to be Prince Charming, there’s always the risk that he’s actually the Big Bad Wolf killing little girls in the woods. Meanwhile, Moll’s mother and siblings diligently fulfill the villainous roles usually designated for step-family. At some point it would seem their control began in a good place in the best interest of Moll, but as time passed it turned ugly and oppressive.
The narrative is driven by Moll’s awakening and hope for liberation ignited by Pascal. Moll experiences a complete transformation, much to the chagrin of her family who find it increasingly difficult to govern her actions. However, Moll’s not satisfied with just escaping their rule; she stages a full-on rebellion just so they know how she really feels. Her self-inflicted exile is amplified when she and Pascal become social pariahs following their questioning by police in connection to the murders.
Buckley and Flynn have a strong understanding of their characters’ nuances as each new layer presents a fresh challenge for their relationship. Although Moll is in her late-twenties, this is still a coming-of-age story as Pascal gives her the confidence she needs to become her own person. However, she finds independence and making one’s own decisions has its own problems that she must address before the film’s conclusion.
Writer/director Michael Pearce’s debut feature, Beast, had its world premiere in the Platform category at the Toronto International Film Festival. Don’t miss the rest of our TIFF 2017 coverage.
Director: Michael Pearce
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn and Geraldine James