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MOVIES (GFF 2023): The Beasts - Review

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One of the best actors currently working today is Denis Ménochet, who let’s face it – you’ll probably recognise from the opening scene of Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds where he squares down Hans Landa. He’s had an excellent 2022 after showcasing the ego-centric nature of the actor in Peter von Kant Ozon’s fearless reimagining of Fassbinder’s Petra von Kant but somehow even campier; and now he’s back with another banger in Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s The Beasts that’s almost certainly going to put anyone off moving to a small community in the middle of nowhere.

The film tackles xenophobia and classism in a rich portrayal that echoes the likes of Straw Dogs and Mark Jenkins’ tremendous Bait, both West Country films – but instead; The Beasts shifts the action to a Spanish perspective at a pair of French residents who come to blows with the locals who are backing a wind turbine project when Antoine and Olga are less than keen. The locals take a toll on their crops and things escalate from there – with a tremendous force of dread capitulated by the rise of stakes and sheer horror at what you’re witnessing – the rugged, rural communities as anyone who’s seen Hot Fuzz will know are not to be messed with – and The Beasts makes an excellent usage of its first billing credits to give you a sense of direction as to where this storyline is headed – without going into spoilers at all it’s not really Ménochet’s tale; but instead - Marina Foïs takes centre stage midway through the film; dealing with the powerful weight of grief and consequence, the small town community having squarely turned their back on them.

The breaking of the initial point of view is incredibly brave as is the heel turn on the characters and their beliefs. The film has something intelligent to say on anguish and suffocating loss and dread; the mix of dream being brought back down to earth by its gripping realities – Antoine wants his home at any, at all costs – because of his belief that he’s been chasing his whole life; but the conflict with the locals means they won’t just back down easily. The concept of privilege is deeply felt with the disadvantaged rural community not taking it kindly to their presence from the very start, and the film doesn’t entirely paint both characters in a good light – and Luis Zahera really owns his role; the best of the cast here arguably – outdoing himself with his performance.

I really like the rugged ruralness of the landscape here and The Beasts handles its terrain almost like it’s a character itself – pushing the boundaries of good and evil with an intense experience that I wish I’d have seen in the cinema and probably will have to again – rare has specifically *this* subject been dealt with as much depth and care; and as much sheer *nuance* as what’s happening before our eyes – and the hard left turn that The Beasts makes is what elevates it from good to great – truly; one of the best of the year – and you’d be amiss not to check it out. Mark Jenkin fans will find themselves right at home.

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