At the center of the British romantic thriller Beast is Jessie Buckley's magnetic performance as Moll. She is in nearly every moment of the film and is consistently alluring. The film around her may veer into some murky territory but this reviewer remained constantly engaged thanks to her screen presence.
Set in Jersey, Beast centers around 27-year old Moll as she is in the process of pushing away from her family. Her mother Hilary (Geraldine James) is cutting, always criticizing some aspect of Moll. When Moll runs out of her birthday party after being upstaged by her sister, she heads straight to the club to dance her pain away. She engages there with a young man who refuses to take no for an answer. As she fights him off, she is saved by local Pascal (Johnny Flynn). He is a rugged handyman who seems to embody everything her mother will hate. Naturally, Moll is infatuated.
As it is soon revealed, there is someone murdering young women. When Moll is asked about Pascal, she lies and makes up an alibi. Is Pascal the murderer? This question would be enough for most conventional thrillers but Beast is something different. Moll is not exactly innocent and her motivation for lying to the police starts to become the bigger question of the film.
Beast cleverly keeps the audience in the dark about Moll and Pascal's true natures. The film has a ragged quality to it that may sacrifice a more taut building of suspense in favor of deep delves into the psyches of its characters. Buckley's amazing performance keeps revealing darker layers to Moll that make you consistently question who she is. This creates a rich character portrait of a woman who may be covering up her true nature that cannot when lust and love enter the picture. The screenplay wisely avoids full blown nastiness in favor of hints at the troubled natures of both Pascal and Moll.
In the end, Beast may fail some audiences in delivering a juicier finale. The final act is unnerving but enigmatic in some ways. Those adventurous viewers will find plenty to mull over when the credits hit, something that is often missing from romantic thrillers that often resolve everything. Even if the film's trajectory doesn't completely work, Buckley is a must see here.