Movie of the week: Beast
Early in Michael Pearce’s deliciously clever debut feature, a young woman called Moll (Jessie Buckley) stares into the mirror and plucks a single long hair from just under her chin. It’s the first of several hints of what’s about to unfold – but few will guess that right up until the final diabolical scene… Then you’ll just want to go back an watch the whole film again (something I did), savouring its tantalising clues and unpacking what it all means. For this is one of those very rare and most satisfying of romantic mystery/thrillers, one that keeps you on the edge of your seat and has something to say.
At first we follow Moll, a fiery redhead with piercing brown eyes, taking in the Island of Jersey’s gorgeous scenery of bursting vegetation and rolling ocean waves. At 27, she’s a bit too old to be still living at home in what seems to be an unhealthy relationship with her mother (Geraldine James). She’s bored with her stuffy well-off home and respectable small town life too, and finds comfort in the arms of Pascal (Johnny Flynn), an unkempt bad boy from the wrong side of town who always seems to be covered in sweat and dirt. And on the fateful morning their eyes lock, traces of blood. “Rabbits” he explains, pointing to the carcass of something he’s just (illegally) shot. And though a bit earthy and rough around the edges, he seems nice enough… except for the fact that he’s also a prime suspect in a series of murders of local girls – all coincidentally right around Moll’s age.
Ok, bad decisions, damsel in danger – we’ve seen that story a hundred times before. Beast isn’t one of those, though Pearce is in no hurry to explain what he’s doing here… For a while as plot details are filled in and these two circle each other, the screen literally bursts with sexual energy and the joy of emancipation mixed with sudden visions of violence. Those scenes are ravishing and raw, and Buckley’s fierce intensity is just an astonishing thing to behold. But what really sets this tale of passion and doomed love apart is that Moll has a sociopathic secret or two of her own hidden in the closet… This is exhilarating and emotionally potent storytelling. Fans of psychological thrillers – and maybe even gothic horror stories, shouldn’t miss it. M from Sept 13. Local cinemas include Palace Central, Chauvel, Dendy Newtown and Opera Quays ★★★★1/2
A Simple Favour
Two movies about missing persons this week, both highly improbable… Paul Feig’s (Bridesmaids) assured new comedy/thriller certainly is, but also so fabulously silly (no, let’s call it as it is – pissed as a newt) that its lack of credibility is the fun. It helps to have a script which pops with more drunken fizz than those (ultra strong) gin and tonics our two “heroes” cement their friendship over early on. Essentially it’s a female buddy comedy for its first act, sketching the suburban lives of Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a ‘golly gee whizz’ single mum and video blogger, and the hard as nails Emily (Blake Lively), an assertive fashion PR exec tired of being married to Sean (Henry Golding – the suave hunk from Crazy Rich Asians), a novelist who hasn’t written a word since marrying her. The favour is when Emily asks her unlikely new friend to pick up her son after school, and its one that proves anything but simple. Because Emily promptly vanishes.
Missing person? Foul play? Murder? A scam? Something suss, that’s for sure, so Stephanie decides to use her locally popular YouTube posts to find out what happened. Then the movies changes gear, becomes a soap opera/mystery drama riddled with so many Gone Girl/Girl on a Train thriller cliches that you know you’re being taken for a ride. Best to just go with it, for its wild and bumpy one spiked with some jarringly hilarious moments and fantastics cameos – particularly by Rupert Friend as Emily’s snotty boss and Girls star Andrew Rannells as a bitchy neighbour. He plays a pivotal (and unexpected) role in bringing the whole absurd affair to its richly satisfying conclusion, and by the time that happens, the tone (and our sympathies – everyone is a suspect at some point) have ricocheted and bounced all over the place. It doesn’t always work, and it should be a total mess. But thanks to Kendrick’s comic skills and Feig’s confident touch, it’s a hoot. M from Sept 13. Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Central, Broadway, Rhodes and Burwood ★★★★
Searching unfolds entirely on screens and instant messaging software — on monitors, phones, TVs and video footage. The recent Unfriended tried something similar, though this invigorating but seriously flawed thriller by Aneesh Chaganty is the best-yet example of what can be done in the emerging sub-genre of screen-based thrillers.
We first get to know David Kim (John Cho) mainly through one of those tiny computer cameras, looking like a complete dork. He’s searching for clues as to why his 16-year-old daughter Margot (Michelle La) has gone mysteriously missing, and naturally he’s heads to where all teenage secrets are kept today: her MacBook Pro.
The family’s backstory is ingeniously told using the same digital technique – and what fun it is to see those old Windows screens (remember the green hills and blue skies?) gradually give way to the latest Mac OS. And for well over half the movie, it clips along at a steady, exciting pace and is intriguing enough to keep us impressed by all the gee-whizz gimmickry… Especially by the red-herrings, the dead ends and online rabbit holes David is lead down. It’s a pity more wasn’t made of what living online is doing to us all – the way it isolates, alienates and locks us into silos of misinformation. It does toss us a few bones to chew on, but then makes a fatally conventional plot turn. And as the mystery involving the investigating detective (Debra Messing) gets sillier and sillier – any trace of relevance and credibility is abandoned. There’s another problem too – those screens flatten everything out and keep us at a distance from the characters – especially Margot who is just a cypher. None of these people feel like fleshed-out human beings, and by the end it’s hard to care what happens to any of them. M from Sept 13. Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Central, Broadway, Rhodes and Dendy Newtown. ★★★
Also opening this week
Reviews – Russell Edwards