There has been a spate of murders of young women on the isle of Jersey recently, and they are making the population wary, even paranoid, that there is a killer living amongst them, so certain people are raising suspicions whether justified or not. In this uncomfortable atmosphere lives Moll (Jessie Buckley), a tour guide who stays with her family and is under the yoke of a domineering mother (Geraldine James) who forces her to stick around and look after her infirm father. On Moll's birthday, her sister announces she is having twins, thereby stealing the reluctant limelight away from Moll which infuriates her, and leads her to wander off from the party - into danger.
Beast was loosely inspired by a real life attacker who haunted Jersey some forty years or so before this film was released, and evidently writer and director Michael Pearce thought he would make for a sinister, difficult piece that would garner him attention, which it did. This received very good notices and picked up a cult following, though not everyone was so impressed, and it was probably down to the tone: so relentlessly grim, so lacking in any ray of sunshine, figuratively speaking, that it kept threatening to turn silly. In fact, in some places it wasn't merely threatening, it tipped over the edge into the ridiculous, and it was purely that serious mood that went some way to rescue it.
If you could take the subject seriously, and serial killers are a very serious matter, then you might just get along with this, but it was too influenced by the nineteen-nineties trend for folie a deux romances, where two characters would fall for each other and as a result wreak some form of destruction: robbery, a murder or two, that sort of affair. The point was that mix the right, or indeed wrong pair of people together and danger would result, and while we learn that Moll and her new beau Pascal Renouf (!), played by musician Johnny Flynn, had a history before they met one another, it was the sparks they created once they started their relationship that proved problematic.
At first you're happy that Moll is finally breaking free from her mother who veers from passive aggressive to downright aggressive in her manipulation and emotional blackmail when it comes to her daughter, but oh, what if Pascal is the killer? Another victim has been found murdered on the day of Moll's birthday, and though she met Pascal on that day, it wasn't until later when he saved her from a potential rapist (it's all happening in this film). So while she gives him an alibi because they have a genuine attraction, being two outsiders (he has a criminal record which warns almost everyone else away), we are intended to be constantly trying to guess whether she is making the sensible decision. Then we learn she has a criminal record herself, having attacked a fellow pupil with scissors when she was a schoolgirl.
Moll was bullied into it, or so she says, which may be accurate or she may be unbalanced, but then so may Pascal, and so it goes on shifting from one suspicion to another as you wonder whether Pearce will opt for the cop-out ending or go for the farfetched one - which is which I'll leave for you to decide. One bonus was the director secured very decent performances out of his cast which helped to hide the fact as a plot this pussyfooted around for far too long, and when it settled on a path to take it attempted to pull the rug from under the audience not once, but twice, betraying the sense that Pearce really wasn't confident how to conclude Beast. Attractively photographed in its glowering manner, unless you were engrossed in how intense this was aiming for, you would begin to twig this was verging on the ridiculous, especially in the latter half, and no matter that it was based on a true story, there was nothing convincing about how it was resolved like a trashy psychothriller. Frustrating, since there was obvious talent here. Music by Jim Williams.