As viewed at the 49th Annual Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF)
The Beasts (2022)
Directed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Starring Marina Foïs, Denis Ménochet and Luis Zahera
True Optimum Immersion is difficult to achieve. Film festivals make it a bit easier, so big thanks to the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) for being somewhat vague with your capsules.
“Set in a remote mountain village in Galicia, Spain, this potent thriller depicts the friction between a local powerbroker and a middle-aged French couple who have moved there to start a farming life.”
That was all I knew when I walked into the SIFF Egyptian theater back in April. (The historic venue, which served as the original SIFF home, is becoming one of my favorites. The site lines are good from almost any seat and the crowd it attracts respects my utter disdain for the glow of cellphones on faces).
“Thriller” is a tricky word to describe a film or define a genre. All “thrillers” are dramatic, so why not just call them “dramas” and let the viewer decide if it was thrilling or not? Is The Beasts, a film by Spanish Director Rodrigo Sorogoyen, a Thriller? Maybe. It’s suspenseful. It features a creeping sense of dread. But is it thrilling? I’m not sure.
Throughout the film, the French couple – Marina Foïs as Olga or Denis Ménochet as Antoine – are almost always in view. Each delivers their lines with expertise and grace, as do supporting characters played by Luis Zahera, Diego Anido and Marie Colomb. The contrast of the couple’s emotional maturity with the townspeople’s blissful ignorance is front and center as the characters interact. Like the first act of the 1970s film Straw Dogs (with Dustin Hoffman), we clearly see that our protagonists are mentally superior to the characters they interact with, but it their intelligence an asset or ultimately their downfall?
Similar to Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997), The Beasts introduces us to all of the important characters within the first act. We know who we’re supposed to cherish and who we’re supposed to loathe. Unlike Funny Games, the “hell” visited on the cherished characters takes what seems like forever to manifest, and once the third act delivers a stunning turn we once again settle back into another cycle of slow, creeping dread. This unique formula makes The Beast interesting and different; it also makes it feel too long and indulgent. At 2 hours and 17 minutes, I was never bored but often perplexed at why the editing choices seemed to stretch time instead of compressing it. Funny Games clocks in at 108 minutes and after viewing it I felt mentally bludgeoned and hopeless. The Beasts left me feeling frustrated and hopeful.
International films are a great way to “travel” to foreign lands. SIFF took me to the Chilean coast, an isolated region in Denmark, the forests of Sweden, an apartment in Georgia and a lake in Canada. Each of these settings felt authentic and “lived in,” serving almost as characters in the films. The mountains of Spain in The Beasts should have felt the same way, but they didn’t. The setting felt like an afterthought. Maybe this was on purpose? Did Sorogoyen want us to think of the film’s conflict as a universal conflict, purposely leaving the visual depiction of the scenery somewhat drab? Regardless, I wasn’t thrilled with this aspect of the film.
One aspect of the film that did thrill me was the score and sound design. Minimal and sparse, yet always looming in the background waiting to drop subtle percussive ques that something was coming. I am interested to hear another film scored by Oliver Arson and it looks like Piggy (2002) is on Hulu.
So, what are you in the mood for? If it is a drama that isn’t necessarily “thrilling” but is full of great performances, then The Beasts is for you.
If Straw Dogs and Funny Games are both As, then The Beasts is a B.