* * * 1/2
The island of Jersey, smack dab in the Atlantic between England and France, is not a place we hear of much, or at least, I hear of much. Known as a tax haven, an isle of cows, or as the home of “Jersey rock” (a sugary treat), it’s not known for lurid crime. But the Jersey of the excellent, thoroughly engrossing debut feature Beast, from writer / director Michael Pearce, is in the grip of a nasty little crime wave. There are two dead girls, and a third is missing.
Dead girls are a depressingly common trope at the moment. Just the other day I was reviewing Sharp Objects, which similarly has a small community being terrorised through the gruesome murder of its teenage female denizens. But like Sharp Objects, Beast isn’t about the dead girls, and it’s not really about who killed them. Like Sharp Objects, it’s actually about a troubled local adult – red-haired at that – living out her own emotional journey against the backdrop of her community under siege.
In this case, it’s Jessie Buckley – who was excellent in the tv series Taboo – as Moll, a young, well-spoken-and-heeled lass living with her parents, working as a tour guide (the kind who stands at the front of the bus with a microphone) and generally dealing with some ennui, sadness and trauma. Then she meets Pascal, a wild, rangy, scruffy young fellow with no regard for social graces, and her world opens up as the way it only can for people experiencing young love, passion and sex for the first time. But young love, of course, can be blind.
Pascal is played by sometime folk musician Johnny Flynn (he sings the songs in Detectorists) and he brings gallons of raw, gritty charisma, enough for us to believe in Moll’s passion. But it is Buckley who will make the hugest splash with this role. She’s superb, and no doubt on the verge of a massive career.
The title is intrinsic to this film, operating on many metaphorical levels, always successfully. A key component of Moll’s attraction to Pascal is how he smells, and the fact that Pearce can pull that off in a medium that rewards only sight and sound is no mean feat. Beast smells gamey, strange and fresh.