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The Beasts

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
The Beasts
Photograph: Curzon

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

This Goya Award-winning drama is a pressure cooker of rural resentment and xenophobia

Denis Ménochet’s French farmer, Antoine Denis, cuts a complex figure in this gripping parable of rural resentment set in the scrubby hills of Galicia. With his prop-forward physique and brooding presence, you’d expect a Ménochet character to meet force with force. But The Beasts – and the Inglourious Basterds actor himself – subverts those assumptions as it sets Antoine up against locals harbouring a grudge.

He and wife Olga (Marina Foïs) run a small farm together, scratching together a living at the local market. Antoine’s side hustle, fixing up broken-down farmhouses, is the passion project that drew them to this corner of Spain. Back in France, their grown-up daughter Marie (Marie Colomb) hopes they’ll see the light and move home. 

Because for two local Spanish brothers – the alpha Xan (the excellent Luis Zahera, all wiry menace) and his compliant, brain-damaged brother Lorenzo (Diego Anido) – ‘Frenchie’ is the enemy. He’s the selfish foreigner who scuppered their chance to escape the drudgery of their lives forever by voting down a proposed wind farm in the village.

Rural exploitation thrillers – Straw Dogs, Deliverance and co – like to pit the erudite against the aggressive, to lay bare the beast that lurks inside even the most mild-mannered of men when pushed to the edge. Antoine’s nationality, his intellect (he was formerly a teacher) and even his organic farming methods are all personal slights for these small-minded men. Violence glints beneath the surface like a landmine.

It’s a compelling study of human conflict in a scarily believable context

But The Beasts, the Goya Award-winning work of Spanish director Rodrigo Sorogoyen, isn’t that kind of movie. Instead it takes pains to humanise the two antagonists: they’re a deeply unsympathetic mix of xenophobic, bitter and insular, but you can see how this outsider blocking their potential windfall might rankle. Antoine, for his part, reacts in a mulishly idealistic way to an increasingly visceral threat.    

The best scenes play out in the local tavern where the villagers congregate and litigate grudges over games of dominos. Cinematographer Alex de Pablo’s camera pans Antoine and the Xan, charting their steady journey from neighbours to antagonists. Bursts of Olivier Arson’s percussive score drumbeats them towards an inevitable explosion of violence. 

Some of that tension dissipates in a more low-key third act that foregrounds the excellent Foïs and Colomb as a mother and daughter at loggerheads, but The Beasts is still a compelling, tragic study of human conflict in a scarily believable context.

In US theaters Jul 28. Streaming on Curzon Home Cinema in the UK now.

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Rodrigo Sorogoyen
  • Screenwriter:Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Isabel Peña
  • Cast:
    • Marina Fois
    • Denis Ménochet
    • Luis Zahera
    • Marie Colomb
    • Diego Anido
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