Compelling character study Beast comes close to greatness

Beast is ostensibly a serial killer movie. But much like Amy Adams’ HBO series Sharp Objects, that aspect of the story plays out in the background, allowing director Michael Pearce to hone in on his main character and find out what makes her tick.

Moll is a lonely young woman with a dark secret. A compelling lead, if a little familiar, and it’s to the film’s credit that following her proves more compelling than the murder mystery. The fairy tale allusions are there if you want them, but the meat of the drama comes from watching Moll interact with her family (lead by a reliably acidic Geraldine James) and her new lover Pascal.

He’s the character with a huge question mark over him, Johnny Flynn playing the mystery man somewhere between dangerous and charming. Again, not the most original character, but these archetypes are evergreen for a reason.

He’s a rugged, man of the land type, and the film feels that way too. It’s not afraid to be murky, or portray the island community of Jersey as bleakly as possible. As the movie progresses it’s less clear if Moll is unhinged or if she’s the natural product of her surroundings.

There are some twists and turns near the end, but Beast is primarily a character study, and that’s ultimately what hamstrings it slightly. As interesting as Moll is, she’s in need of more story. The movie treads a fine line, periodically causing the audience to shift its alliances, but that’s not quite interesting enough to sustain itself.

It’s compelling, and admirably avoids genre trappings, but while Beast occasionally seems poised to become something truly great, it never quite gets there.