SXSW Film Review: Beast
Review by Britt Hayes
Bruno and Maxine are married and in love. They’re moving into a beautiful new home and everything is going well until Maxine begins to drift away. She has everything she wants; why isn’t this enough? As she pulls away, something dark and inhuman begins to stir in Bruno, and Maxine is torn between the guilt that demands she stay and the need to be free and happy.
H.R. Boe’s Beast is an often abstract look at the dissolution of a marriage, seen through the notions of consuming, or being consumed. During a provocative evening of sex, Bruno cuts Maxine’s breast and drinks her blood, believing he is taking her essence inside of him. Throughout the film he begs her to take him inside of her in the same way, to let him in. It’s a metaphor, and an obvious one, about how we open ourselves up to the people we love. Their knife play in bed, for instance, is a dominant/submissive act, and one that can only be enacted when there is the utmost trust in a relationship. For Maxine to allow Bruno to cause her such pain is a sign of the implicit trust between the two, and Maxine breaks that trust when she begins to stray.
The dialogue between the two is so fluid and effortless; we are not given straight exposition or even context for some of the exchanges. Instead, the two often engage in discussions that seem like they’re picking up from somewhere they left off — somewhere we didn’t see. This sort of approach is commendable and belies a filmmaker who not only trusts, but respects his audience. The shifts between scenes are so seamless, and even the hints at an alternate existence don’t feel so much fantastical as they do darkly dreamy — the remnants of wishes and desires.
Beast is seductive and hypnotic, emanating with darkness and deception. Filmed on a small budget, Boe maximizes his potential with beautiful style choices — as we look inside Bruno, drops of inky blood snake their way through his being, and the entire film has a beige, washed-out look that pushes against the cold landscape of Denmark. The streets are filmed as if we’re inside a snow globe, with the snow so soft and still — almost completely halted. These are slices of a life, pieces of a marriage coming apart. The characters, particularly Maxine, speak enigmatically and poetically about themselves and their desires. It’s a heightened reality in that it represents feelings we know very well, but, almost like Cronenberg, Boe creates people who don’t speak like anyone we know. They inhabit a reality that is vaguely familiar, but there’s something… off about it all.
The tension ramps slowly, like the slow turn of a doorknob as you try to avoid waking a loved one in the middle of the night. With a creepy atmosphere, Beast is told from an entirely subjective view. The beast inside Bruno is his jealousy, his desperation, and his obsession. It’s a highly romanticized — albeit a little morbid — idea of consuming someone we love, of mixing our blood with theirs and existing eternally as one. If he can make himself a part of her and make her a part of him, then she will never leave. She will be tethered and she will understand what it is to love the way he does. The harder he struggles, the more the beast erupts violently. Bruno has bursts of horrifying intensity; Maxine, believing him to be ill, feels obligated to stay, but her hate grows from her resentment and she can’t stand the beast within him. How do we kill that which seeks to consume? How do we eradicate that obsessive, nagging desire? How do we leave?