Written and directed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen, co-written by Isabel Peña, a middle-aged French couple moves to a local village, seeking closeness with nature where their presence inflames two locals to the point of outright hostility and shocking violence. Starring: Marina Foïs, Denis Ménochet, Luis Zahera, Diego Anido, Marie Colomb, Luisa Merelas and José Manuel Fernández y Blanco.
Thriller cinema comes in all different shapes and sizes, The Beasts fits into the slow-burn, dramatic thriller category. It’s purposeful and patient but it undeniably gets under your skin, it’s practically baiting you with how gracefully gradual the movement of the story is. Especially when it’s working with such simple yet complex issues: flat out racism, resentment and neighbourly disagreements. The sheer amount of tension it builds, right from the start is impressive, although there are a few decisions that Rodrigo Sorogoyen and Isabel Peña make later in the story, and how the ending itself plays out, that might not suit everyone. Even so, they are thoughtful choices with strong intentions which fit the remarkable consistency throughout the story in its pacing and progression.
One of the elements which helps so well to create that growing, niggling tension is the excellent quality of the Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s direction and Alejandro de Pablo’s cinematography. Firstly, the richness of the aesthetic is ridiculously stunning. Granted, there are a few especially choice locations but for the most part the setting is quite simple and everyday, reflecting their work on the land. So being able to turn that rustic, old-fashioned setting into an atmosphere that almost reflects a slick, modern thriller, is exceptional. However, despite its wonderful consistency, it does run somewhat long and may struggle to hold onto viewers’ attention in the last half an hour or so. In spite of that, the feeling which it creates is a memorable one, leaving you with a heavy heart.
This is sincerely a story about people and their temperaments, a pursuit of defeating arrogance, prejudice and entitlement. In that sense it requires a strong lead, someone to root for and to empathise with, in their outrage, anger and pride, which is exactly what you get in Denis Ménochet. His performance has a terrific presence, he’s lively, strong and won’t back down, there’s also the slightest of youthful edges in his refusal to give up. A classic male trait of choosing to commit to being right rather than protecting yourself. Marina Foïs brings the other half of that coin, she’s responsible, mature to a fault and supportive. Her performance is a huge part of the overall sadness to the film, as well as the great chemistry Foïs and Ménochet have which builds a sweet, enviable relationship. Marie Colomb may not have a huge part to play but when her time finally arrives in the latter scenes of The Beasts, she makes herself known. Her performance is forthright but overtly emotional and vulnerable, it’s akin to a representation of all the emotions that viewers will have felt watching the story up until that point.
The Beasts is a gripping, tension-filled thriller, building a modern aesthetic and atmosphere within a rustic landscape. It moves with elegance which is such an interesting contrast to its hard-working setting. The writing is thoughtful, slow and gradually digs deeper into its conflict. With the exception of an errant shot here and there, the direction is very well done, the cinematography is superb and there’s such a satisfyingly lush feel to the colouring. It might not end exactly where you’re expecting, or as soon as you’re expecting but if you stick with it, it’s worth it.