The promotion for Michael Pearce’s psychological drama Beast tries so very hard to capitalize on the public-domain lure of Beauty and the Beast. Between its single-word title to how that word is rendered in an inappropriate Old English Gothic font on the poster, it makes fantasy-inflected, bodice-ripping promises the movie itself doesn’t even try to keep. Moll (Jessie Buckley) is a 27-year-old tour guide who still lives with her abusive family and keeps her boiling rage in check by acts of self-harm such as holding broken glass in her fist.
Enter a scrubby guy named Pascal (Johnny Flynn), with whom Moll begins to fall in love after he rescues her from a slightly less scrubby guy. Moll’s horrible, upper-crusty family objects to the relationship for the predictable class reasons, but also because their town is being stalked by a serial killer — and whatever else Pascal doesn’t seem like, he doesn’t not seem like a serial killer. Despite its title, Beast is Moll’s story. Flynn’s character disappears for long stretches, but when he’s gone it isn’t about him, and Jessie Buckley holds the screen like Flynn was never on it. Beast also passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, and keeps you guessing as to who the title character really is.
Opens Friday at the Embarcadero Center Cinema and the AMC Dine-In Kabuki.