Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s immersive slow-burn drama excels.
Synopsis: 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.
With a runtime of over two hours, it would be easy for The Beasts to lose momentum, but the pauses in the conflict offer much-needed respite for the viewer, who becomes trapped in the escalating tensions between the characters. Sorogoyen’s tendency to overextend scenes perfectly primes the audience for violence but holds back on the release it would provide. The strength of The Beasts is in denying the moments that would bring some kind of resolution, never allowing that intensity to fully dissipate.
When Antoine (Denis Ménochet) and Olga (Marina Foïs) Denis move to a small village, their aim is for a quieter life, growing and selling vegetables at the market. However, their relocation attracts negative attention from two local men who are determined to unseat their new, peaceful life.
The encounters between Antoine and his aggressors Xan (Luis Zahera) and Lorenzo (Diego Anido) build so gradually and so skillfully that the full effect almost doesn’t register. A heart-in-mouth encounter in a car feels like the first time that threat is almost fully realised, an escalation in behaviour on both sides and perhaps most importantly, Olga’s realisation of how bad their situation is.
Slow crawls through the landscape highlight the rustic nature of their surroundings, contrasting with some of the Denis’ ideas and political aims. The open space becomes just as oppressive as the more enclosed spaces that place the men in close proximity to one another. Even though the final third of the film takes a different direction, the use of space is so clever and thoughtful, contributing to the stresses placed on the characters.
Of course, all the considered use of space and drawn out tension would not work without the cast meeting that intensity. Denis Ménochet is excellent as Antoine, possessing an imposing physicality that, like the film itself, is restrained. Zahera and Anido’s performances deliver on the necessary aggression, while also capturing the more quiet bitterness behind it. Marina Foïs stands out as the film progresses, shifting as her awareness of the situation changes and leaves a lasting impression as the credits roll.
A considered film about male rage and competing interests with an incredible ability to switch tones while sustaining that carefully built tension.
4.5 out of 5 stars
The Beasts is available to watch on Curzon at Home.