The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE BEASTS | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - THE BEASTS

New Release Review [Cinema/Curzon] - THE BEASTS
A French couple relocate to rural Spain, only to make enemies of two local brothers.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Rodrigo Sorogoyen

Starring: Denis Ménochet, Marina Foïs, Luis Zahera, Diego Anido, Marie Colomb

The Beasts poster

Following Jonathan Cenzual Burley's El Pastor and Carla Simón's Alcarras, Rodrigo Sorogoyen's The Beasts is another Spanish drama about folk trying to hold onto their patch of rural land amid development. The difference here is that the stubborn protagonists aren't native Spanish but an interloping French couple, Antoine (Denis Ménochet) and Olga (Marina Foïs).

The Beasts review

Educated and middle class, Antoine and Olga have relocated to Spain's Galicia region and set up a small vegetable farm, the product of which they sell at a local market. In their spare time they repair abandoned homes in the area, in the hopes that some day more people like themselves might be attracted to moving, thus fuelling their business.

At the point where The Beasts begins, Antoine is deep into an increasingly aggressive dispute with a pair of local brothers – the sinister Xan (Luis Zahera) and his mentally challenged younger brother Lorenzo (Diego Anido) – over his refusal to sign away his land to a power company that wishes to erect wind turbines in the area. Antoine voted against the plan for two reasons – one, he worries about the impact on the environment, and two, he considers the area his home and isn't about to move. Antoine is constantly reminded by Xan that it isn't really his home, that he's just an interloper. Xan, along with several other locals, wants the money from the land sale so he can leave an area that has long lost its charm for him. In an attempt to persuade Antoine to leave, he wages a war that begins with gentle mocking (constantly referring to Antoine as "Frenchy") but soon escalates to threats of violence.

The Beasts review

Ever since Straw Dogs and Deliverance, rural folk have been getting a raw deal in cinema, portrayed as savages who will turn to rape and violence at the drop of a hat, particularly if they feel threatened by sophisticated city folk. The Beasts has much in common with Peckinpah's film, though it distinguishes itself in a couple of key areas. For one, the hulking Menochet is the physical opposite of the wiry Dustin Hoffman, so much so that it's hard to imagine Xan or Lorenzo being able to take him down. This idea of "taking him down" is pre-figured by an opening sequence in which we watch a pair of local men grapple a horse to the ground, an image later called back to when things really escalate between the two warring parties. Casting an actor with the imposing frame of Menochet is counter-intuitive, but much like the casting of George C. Scott in ghost story The Changeling, it works because if someone who looks like Menochet feels scared we're forced to take the scenario seriously.

The other key deviation from other movies that pit city slickers against country bumpkins is that Sorogoyen's film forces us to consider the latter's point of view, even if it never condones their actions. Antoine and Olga are essentially guilty of gentrification, and in renovating the area's abandoned dwellings they hope to attract more wealthy foreigners. It's easy to see why the locals might be wary of having their area and culture impacted in such a manner. Plus, there's also the issue of the money, which may be chicken feed to the affluent French couple but which would greatly improve the lives of the locals. In what David Lynch would call The Beasts' "eye of the duck" scene, Antoine and Xan have a lengthy, one-take discussion in which Xan lays out his frustrations. He's angry that someone who just moved to the area and essentially farms as a hobby is entitled to the same rights as people who have lived there all their lives and for whom farming is a tough means of survival. You can kind of see his point, and if it's not clear then imagine if Antoine and Olga had pitched up in a part of Africa and were similarly denying the native population a chance to escape poverty so they could live out their hippy fantasy. It doesn't go down so well, does it?

The Beasts review

Ultimately, due to Xan's escalation to violence, we find ourselves taking the side of Antoine, though I admit from a personal perspective this may be down to finding him more relatable as a fellow urbanite. When Sorogoyen takes the narrative into full-on thriller territory, he does so in stunningly effective fashion. The Beasts is one of the most tense films I've seen in recent years, and that Sorogoyen is able to make us identify with a character who isn't entirely likeable is testament to his skills in cinematic manipulation. A sequence in which Antoine is stalked in the woods by Xan and Lorenzo is a bravura piece of filmmaking that will have you digging your nails into your armrest in apprehension. Antoine may be twice the size of his aggressors, but he's firmly in their territory, and despite his claims, it's a land he doesn't really know like the locals.

The Beasts
 is in UK/ROI cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from March 24th.

2023 movie reviews