The feature début from British director Michael Pearce is a thriller that relies – perhaps unusually – very heavily on emotion. Set and shot in Pearce's native Jersey, it is love, more than crime, that drives the film. For a large proportion of the film the serial killings that haunt the island – loosely inspired by real events – are peripheral. That is until the past catches up with the two lovers.
Moll (Jessie Buckley) is kept on a close lead by her cold and domineering mother (Geraldine James) for reasons that become clear as we get to know her. After being sidelined at her own birthday party she abruptly leaves to go clubbing. Early the next morning, she meets Pascal (Johnny Flynn). He is mysterious, charismatic and quite probably dangerous, but Moll feels appreciated by him in a way she lacks from her family, who regard him with a suspicion that borders on contempt. He is therefore perfect. The fact he's a police suspect is merely incidental.
Pearce allows the characters' secrets to unfold gradually. There is a defining moment in Moll's childhood that means she feels a certain kinship with Pascal, who assures her that despite his criminal past, he is completely innocent of the misogynistic killings plaguing the island. Whether or not he is telling the truth is left entirely to us to decide; a nuance at the heart of the gripping penultimate scene.
As Moll, Buckley (from the BBC‘s War and Peace) is outstanding. Her portrayal of a troubled individual is so convincing that, paradoxically, we are never sure how ‘unwell' her character really is. She makes us inwardly cheer her acts of defiance and feel her inner conflict over the man she loves. Meanwhile, Flynn continues to prove how versatile an actor he can be. He played a charming but dangerous drifter in Martin McDonagh's Hangmen at the Royal Court Theatre and continues to play hopeless romantic Dylan in Netflix‘s Lovesick. As Pascal, he is just as convincing. Together, they make an intense on-screen couple and their first declaration of love to each other is oddly moving.
Pearce cites Hitchcock's female-driven psychological thrillers, such as Marnie and Shadow of a Doubt, as inspiration. I was occasionally reminded of the mounting dread of Ben Wheatley's Kill List – the audience laughed in Beast as much as they gasped. There are occasionally melodramatic missteps and some of the supporting roles don't match the strength of central performances, but generally speaking this is a film to look out for from an exciting new British talent.
Words by Logan Jones