This bizarre horror/drama from Denmark is an atmospheric but austere film, with intriguing visuals but a general failure to deliver a cohesive tale. It deals with an intense and volatile marriage, and the dehumanizing effects of obsession.
The film follows Bruno and Maxine. The two are in love, though their relationship isn’t what you might call calm and rational. Bruno wants to consume Maxine, his feelings are so intense for her. Even knowing that Bruno is the type to destroy what he loves, Maxine craves the destruction (as shown by some strange and violent sexual appetites).
But when Maxine begins an affair, Bruno finds himself spiraling down into a Hell of his own making. He’s also experiencing some strange physical changes, like a pain in his belly and the urge for rarer and rarer meat. As he becomes more unhinged and his behavior begins to border on the violently bizarre, Maxine must faces the revelation of more than one secret.
The story itself starts off well enough, and looks to be not just another relationship study, but a bizarre supernatural journey in love and obsession. Where the film falters is that it fails to realize the potential of the story. Instead of going out on a twisted limb and bringing the tale to a climactic and cohesive ending, Beast uses bizarre cut shots of visual weirdness to suggest an ending that it never fully explores or explains.
Nicolas Bro plays Bruno with plenty of animalistic intensity. He’s built for the part, with a hairy heaviness that suggests “beast.” As betrayal and hatred begin to grow in his belly (along with something else merely hinted at, with cut shots of drops of blood clouding and growing in a viscous fluid, presumably his belly), his descent into madness is palpable, as he sweats, paces and begins maiming himself.
Meanwhile, Marijana Jankovic plays Maxine with a cool aloofness. When she’s not allowing Bruno to cut her in sexual foreplay, she’s sedately cavorting with her lover. Her coolness is a great foil to Bro’s bestiality, and the wide physical difference between the actors is used to good effect.
The visual style of director Christoffer Boe embraced a dreamy (nightmarish) reality, where long, steady close-ups and partially obscured or hazy shots fought with crisp and stark winter outdoor shots. His use of scene cuts and flash shots of weird horrific visuals added to the mood of growing threat. Unfortunately, these scenes merely hinted at a sub-story that was never fully explored.
In the end, Beast became a bizarre relationship study in obsession and betrayal that didn’t make much sense. If taken at face value, the story that was examined and presented made little sense because of the visuals and cut scenes that suggested something metaphorical-turned-physical was happening. With a parallel story carried on throughout, the fact that the end simply abandoned this and made very little sense is a major flaw.
Beast made its U.S. premiere at SXSW last week, and though the atmospheric style of filming is sometimes intriguing to watch, the story simply doesn’t deliver on suggested promises.