By Chris Nashawaty
May 10, 2018 at 07:13 PM EDT
Credit: Kerry Brown/30WEST/Roadside Attractions

Beast (2018)

  • Movie

Moll Huntford is a shy young woman who feels invisible. But you couldn’t miss her if you tried. Played by the compulsively watchable 28-year-old Irish actress Jessie Buckley (BBC’s The Last Post and War and Peace), Moll may be a quiet loner who casts her eyes downward, but her hair is a blaring tangle of fiery orange curls. She’s a wallflower who sticks out like a sunflower. She’s also the main reason to seek out writer-director Michael Pearce’s gripping new import, Beast.

Set on the isolated, wind-lashed island of Jersey, which immediately puts you in the mind of a modern-day Bronte novel, this slow-building film starts off as a familiar sort of forbidden romance but quickly shifts into something more mysterious. After walking out of her own birthday party, where her older sister steals her thunder by announcing she’s pregnant (with twins, no less), Moll goes to a nightclub to go dancing and her forget her problems. She’s got a bunch. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Moll leaves the club with a guy and they go to the beach, where he tries to sexually force himself on her. But she’s saved by a handsome, brooding local named Pascal (Johnny Flynn, resembling a scruffier, scrawnier Charlie Hunnam), who’s out hunting rabbits. She’s immediately attracted, but also a little scared of him. After all, there’s been a series of murders of young women on the island, and the police think that Pascal may be their prime suspect simply because he’s from the wrong side of the tracks.

Moll’s smothering mother (played with suffocating smarm by Geraldine James) warns her against Pascal. Then again, she seems like she’d warn Moll against anyone who tired to pry her out from under her thumb. The more Moll’s told to stay away, the harder she falls. She’s wants danger. Plus, the two may have more in common than she admits. Pearce takes his time laying out his sleeping-with-the-enemy tale, but his stinginess with plot lends the film an vice-tightening air of mystery that suits it perfectly. The natural beauty of Jersey also makes you want to book a trip there right away — well, if it weren’t for all those murders. I won’t give away what happens in the final stretch of the film, but you won’t be able to take your eyes off Buckley, who eventually breaks her silence with a howl of rage from the bottom of her soul. B+

Beast (2018)

  • Movie
  • R
  • Michael Pearce