THE STORY – A French couple move to a Galician town in search of a closer relationship with nature. However, a conflict with their neighbours, the Anta brothers, causes tensions to grow until the situation reaches a point of no return.
THE CAST – Denis Ménochet, Marina Foïs, Luis Zahera, Diego Anido & Marie Colomb
THE TEAM – Rodrigo Sorogoyen (Director/Writer) & Isabel Peña (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 137 Minutes
The nature of trust is a delicate element to obtain. It can be a powerful connection between people that can weather the most turbulent of times, but it can also be challenging to obtain and quickly shattered. The dynamic is present both on an individual and communal scale, and when the imbalance is profound enough, dark consequences can manifest. The world is consumed by suspicions and judgments that fracture connections, festering deeper wounds of resentment until there is nothing more than inevitable confrontations. “The Beasts” sets its gaze on a small gathering that cannot find this common ground, settling into a fascinating web of intrigue to showcase a menacing aura.
Set in a rural countryside in Spain, Antione (Denis Menochet) and Olga (Marina Foïs) are an expatriate French couple attempting to live simply off the land and selling their harvest at the local markets. However, their presence has caused an uneasy atmosphere in the area, and they have never been able to fit within this community comfortably. A driving force behind this is that foreign markets have expressed interest in buying the land with the intention of developing wind turbines. Most of the poor farmers eagerly want to take the money and run, but Antione and Olga steadfastly dissent. This only causes the conflicts to increase in intensity. Dirty looks escalate to physical altercations, and soon this couple must learn the true nature of their neighbors in a plaguing nightmare.
Director Rodrigo Sorogoyen carefully calibrates the tension quite effectively, letting silences build the stress between every unsaid word that leads to violent action. He allows many scenes to play out uninterrupted with no editing, but here it is no gimmick. It’s a moment to allow the characters to naturally color the space around them, voicing grievances as the anxiety slowly but pointedly rises throughout these sequences. It works even better that the notes of xenophobia are not so overt, either. It can be easy to read these events simply as a group of locals terrorizing a couple. However, the conversations about who drives a society’s interests and prosperity are revealed to contain a more nuanced examination. The filmmaking captures these themes through its textured cinematography and striking framing, making for an engaging watch.
Yet, that momentum is only partially sustained. The narrative shifts in the second half to focus more on Olga dealing with the aftermath of a confrontation between Antione and a pair of brothers who have been the main instigators. There are powerful moments explored here, carried by good performances as well, but this abrupt change ultimately only feels somewhat justified given how little time this character was presented earlier. The tone of the momentum is altered, and suddenly there is a greater emphasis on domestic drama that is far less thematically interesting. It ultimately leads to an expected conclusion that lacks the immediacy to feel wholly earned. After the masterful ways in which mood and suspense were implemented, seeing much of that squandered for more pedestrian storytelling is quite underwhelming. It still manages to be compelling but also forfeits the more absorbing aspects.
Menochet conveys a stern persona that accurately depicts the level of terror that is desperately trying to hide itself. He embodies the ordinary citizen attempting to live his own life while constantly being careful of the foreboding nature that surrounds him. It’s a good portrayal, and the same can be said for Foïs. In all honesty, despite appearing in the lesser half, her showcase performance is actually the best in the film. The cold hollowness she maintains to mask the emotionally frayed core is quite alluring, only shackled by the material. Luis Zahera plays the elder brother, Xan, and is completely terrifying in his chilling presence. Both his whispers and outbursts carry a disturbing cadence that makes the peril come alive whenever he is on screen. Diego Andino also portrays this notion, albeit with much less impact. At the same time, the focal performances all do a commendable job of creating realistic characters whose plights are riveting to endure.
Much of “The Beasts” is an alluring analysis of how the smallest interactions can quickly compound their toxicity. Sorogoyen conveys this through gripping directorial choices that invite one into a closer inspection that exposes the ugliness at the center. It’s such an engrossing work until the script changes in the latter sections, no longer showcasing the same striking material. Still, the film is quite enticing to witness the events unfold, leaving a haunted outlook on such divisive interactions amid a frightening world.