If You Go Down In The Woods Today…
Once upon a time, on a magical island, far, far away… well not really that far away to be honest, just down the road off the coast of France, yet still part of the Kingdom of Blighty, ie a tiny Channel Island version of England, there lived a beautiful young princess Moll (Jessie Buckley) in a castle.
Well she’s more 27 and still living at home with her parents, and the house, despite the perpetual rays of sunshine grows more like a prison every day. So despite the radiance of colour, this is no happily ever after moment.
The tale of ‘Beast’ (2017) hypnotically begins as a seeming feral primal force is being inadvertently coxed out of the sea by the haunting chants of a local church choir. We drift up the beach side hills to a remembrance spot of a young girl who has disappeared, photographs, flowers and candles wishing the safe return of innocence. All is definitely not right on this picturesque scape.
Despite the immediate indication of an underlying darkness, there is a beautiful contrast with the cinematography by Benjamin Kracun which illustrates the entire adventure with gorgeous glows, rich vibrant colours and a dreaminess that has the sense of a Brother’s Grimm after the boys dropped quite a few ecstasy, and it works phenomenally well, a Brothers Grin.
Written and directed by Michael Pearce, this stunningly assured debut was in itself inspired by Michael’s youth growing up on the island and the stories of an actual horrific sex offender in the 60s, The Beast of Jersey, Edward Paisnel.
Everyone seems to be trapped on the island, where it acts as a pressure cooker, slowly getting more and more intense, cracks starting to appear in every direction, even though there is a profound desire by the locals to keep up the appearances. None more so that Moll and her incredibly overbearing mum Hilary (the absolutely fantastic Geraldine James), who reigns in her palace with the passive aggressive withering glee of an evil witch. The dad isn’t of good health and seems to have given up years ago. Moll has been home schooled for years after an incident in school, and seems to have been placed in detention for the rest of her life, in contrast to her sister who is the ideal, yet vacuous sibling.
A profoundly shallow birthday garden party, supposedly in honour of Moll tips the tolerance balance over into ‘fuck this’ territory and so begins Molls adventure. That single moment of defiance and desire for preservation of sanity becomes the catalyst for an intense rebirth, coming of age or violent metamorphosis into truth and self acceptance.
In her momentary dash for freedom, she comes across the feral unkempt raw force that is local boy Pascal (wonderfully played by Johnny Flynn) who has the visage of a surfer who rides the waves whilst carrying an axe and smoking rollies. When he’s not doing that, he’s busy poaching rabbits, he’s the bad boy prince that Moll has been unknowingly searching for, and massive bonus points that he’ll royally piss off her mum. That bad boy status also makes him the abduction prime suspect number one by the local police.
And so the tale unfurls, slowly, beautifully and very darkly.
With a very rich tapestry of brilliant leads (in particular Buckley), utterly beautiful visuals, gorgeous haunting score by Jim Williams (who has notably created music for the fantastic horrors Kill List, Raw and psychedelic nasty trip A Field in England) and of course great direction by Pearce. But we must not forget the story itself which has wonderful touches of the extreme horrors that can happen, but also the daily micro horrors that a great deal of families seem dead set on inflicting on each other on a daily basis, the subsequent traumas they create, which in turn have the potential to instigate the huge horrors. Nature, nurture, murder.
I went into this movie cold, not really knowing much about it, except for my disappointment at missing its cinematic release. That lack of knowledge paid back tenfold in my enjoyment of it, it’s a beautiful dark beauty of a movie, that I look forward to watching and appreciating many more times, as well as looking forward to whatever Pearce and co get up to next.
8/10 ‘Beast’ is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download.