Jul 14, 2023
Alan King, Christopher Kirby, Zoe Bertram, Bill Evans
Australia is a country well-known for its dangerous wild animals. From numerous species of snakes, spiders and sharks, as well as dingos and Tasmanian devils, you spend time in the outback, or the ocean that encompasses the country, then you almost expect to encounter danger of some sort. Hence it feels appropriate, and not too unrealistic, that the beast that gives ‘Beast’ its name should inhabit a rural Australian forest in the middle of nowhere. Whilst that part of ‘Beast’ makes sense, there are a great many creative decisions throughout the film that feel ill-judged, and detract from the overall quality of ‘Beast’.
Alan King’s film constantly feels like a case of one step forward, two steps back, for every time a moment of inspiration occurs in his genuinely intriguing story, it is set back through a creative misstep. King’s film follows Vincent (played by King himself), a tortured writer with a serious case of writer’s block, and his encounters with a mysterious beast, which has a profound impact on his life. Vincent first encounters the beast whilst in retreat at an isolated shack - having recently split from his wife after she coolly labels him ‘an alcoholic delusional man who thinks he’ll write a book some day’. In a fit of alcoholism he is attacked by the beast, narrowly escaping with his life. The impact of this is profound, inspiring a fit of creative genius as Vincent completes his debut novel ‘Falcon’s Dive’ and turns - very temporarily - sober. This is then followed by a bizarre training montage, as Vincent turns into Rocky Balboa to try and defeat the beast, though he only loses his tongue, leading to a strange, and poorly executed friendship with a man called Gunther (Bill Evans).
Eventually stardom occurs, as Vincent’s book becomes a bestseller, earning him fame and fortune, though the beast continues to haunt him. Indeed, the beast, and the mythology that surrounds it, practically drives Vincent’s success, and later failures. The beast is an interesting metaphor for Vincent’s mental turmoil and his reliance on alcohol, yet it nonetheless works fairly effectively. Its no coincidence that as Vincent’s mental state becomes more stable, the beast becomes more elusive and disappears into the shadows, yet re-emerges when Vincent’s vulnerability resurfaces and his newfound faith comes under scrutiny.
Whilst King both writes and directs this metaphor well, it is the pieces that surround it that undermine ‘Beast’ as a film. The dialogue, especially following Vincent’s loss of his tongue, becomes stilted, forced, and contains far too much exposition. Conversations become uninteresting and begin to drag, as, although each actor delivers adept performances - particularly Alan King as Vincent, who has a certain charisma - the lines which they deliver feel put upon and unnatural. King’s direction is similarly patchy - with moments of bold creativity contrasted with debilitating creative decisions, such as the repeated use of freeze frames, a consistently jarring soundtrack, and a tendency to cut far too sharply.
Therefore, ‘Beast’ is a film of frustrating contrast, as though its story and themes of creative flux, compulsion, and addiction are intriguing, the way in which these are illustrated are ultimately unfulfilling, only serving to undermine the ideas presented and leave the viewer disappointed with a sense of what could have been.