By: Trevor Chartrand
The Beasts, from director Rodrigo Sorogoyen, is based on the ominous and tragic true story of discrimination set in rural Galicia, Spain. With all due respect to the victims involved, this true story is captivating – there’s tons of cinematic potential in this narrative that The Beasts, frankly, fails to exploit. Instead of a tense, emotional thriller, Sorogoyen has chosen to take a much slower paced and melodramatic direction, which doesn’t feel quite right for this material.
In The Beasts, a well-read Frenchman Antoine (Denis Ménochet) moves with his wife Olga (Marina Foïs) from France to rural Spain, where they live off the land on a quaint farm in an idyllic little mountain town. Their paradise is doomed, however, when closed-minded locals reject the newcomers with harsh animosity that ultimately leads to an act of unforgivable violence.
Narratively, tension in this film derives more from the inevitability of violence than from the act itself. There’s this looming threat throughout the film, but suspense that overstays its welcome can easily become, well, boredom. Unfortunately, the ‘slow burn’ approach taken by The Beasts has the opposite effect: tension diminishes as the story drags its feet, while viewers grow impatient waiting for a finale that’s ultimately anticlimactic and disappointing.
Composer Olivier Arson tries to save the film with an intense and chilling score, but his efforts are for nought. The intensity of the music is in direct contradiction with the film’s pace and editing, and it’s distractingly out-of-place in this picture.
To the film’s credit, the performances in the film are subtle and strong. There’s a very real husband-and-wife chemistry between Ménoche and Foïs, two committed actors who learned to speak Spanish specifically for their roles. The Beasts is also effectively shot, vividly capturing the picturesque Spanish countryside.
While The Beasts has many merits, the film doesn’t completely work as the sum of a series of contradictory parts. It’s difficult to discern the filmmaker’s intentions here. The pacing is a problem, as well as conflicting and unclear tones. Scenes that do work, work very well, but as a whole, the film feels very inconsistent overall.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor