The Beast
Photograph: Vertigo Releasing
  • Film
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The Beast

3 out of 5 stars

For the most part, it’s a beauty

Olly Richards

Time Out says

Bertrand Bonello’s sci-fi epic-cum-period-romance-cum-stalker-thriller is absolutely teeming with ideas. That they don’t all come together in an entirely convincing way doesn’t spoil the overall effect of something thought-provoking, very handsomely made, and appealingly weird.

To explain it in its most basic terms, in 2044 France, A.I. has taken charge, following an unspecified event that left the atmosphere apparently inhospitable (everyone wears masks outdoors) and the population heavily depleted. Human emotion, which is blamed for the event, is now considered dangerous, and any person who wants to advance in this new society has to purge themselves of all complex feelings. Not just the feelings they have now, but anything they might be hanging onto from past lives. Keen to get out of her boring job, Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux) submits to a process of ‘purification’, stepping back into previous existences in an effort to make peace with them. 

In each lifetime she encounters a man, Louis (Femme’s George MacKay), to whom she is always attracted. In 2044, he’s an alluring stranger with whom she keeps crossing paths. In 1910, he’s an old acquaintance who turns her head, even though she’s apparently happily married. In 2014, he’s a furious incel to whom a deeply lonely Gabrielle is drawn. It’s loosely inspired by Henry James’s ‘The Beast In The Jungle’, about a man whose life is crumpled by his unshakeable belief that something terrible is going to happen to him. In Gabrielle’s case, something terrible generally, eventually, does happen.

It’s thought-provoking, handsomely made and appealingly weird

Its peculiarity is really absorbing for about 90 minutes or so, the different timelines bleeding together with an elegant dreamy logic. It doesn’t make sense as such, but it repeatedly offers up pleasing oddities. Seydoux and MacKay give us lots of layers, although the chemistry between them is only gently warm. Its elegance dissipates in the final third, which is largely given over to the 2014 era.

It’s still interesting, but it becomes almost a new film, following Gabrielle as she struggles to make a career as a model in LA, while Louis, a 30-year-old virgin and none too happy about it, rails against women and stalks Gabrielle. It’s essentially a thriller, but a touch slack and, compared to the rest, verging on generic. It brings to mind a less stylish
Mulholland Drive and doesn’t really justify its share of the two-and-a-half hour running time.

Still, that latter dip aside, the level of creativity on show, some cogent questions about human nature and frailty, and a gutsy central turn from Seydoux more than pull it through.

In UK cinemas May 31.

Cast and crew

  • Director:Bertrand Bonello
  • Screenwriter:Bertrand Bonello, Benjamin Charbit, Guillaume Bréaud
  • Cast:
    • Léa Seydoux
    • George MacKay
    • Guslagie Malanda
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