‘The Beasts’ review – A chilling and intense thriller about a neighborly feud

According to its director and screenwriter, The Beasts (As Bestas) is inspired by a real-life account. Although, Rodrigo Sorogoyen and Isabel Peña went on record to say their “film is a fable about a true story.” In ways, this Spanish thriller comes across as a dark fairytale, as opposed to a tawdry dramatization, like those frequently seen on ID. The creators’ approach to neighborly discord is elegant and deliberate, not to mention downright frightening.

As is often the case for these disputes, surface differences lead to resentment and animosity. A French couple, Pierre and Olga (Denis Ménochet, Marina Foïs), relocates their agricultural business to a village in the Galician countryside. At first their arrival is met with natural curiosity, but after two years, the locals become downright hostile toward their new neighbors. Leading the charge are brothers Xan and Loren (Luis Zahera, Diego Anido), who specifically detest Pierre and Olga after their vote costs everyone a payout. Had the French couple voted “yes” to a wind-energy deal, the entire situation might have turned out differently.

The Beasts is a calculated thriller, though the outcome wasn’t premeditated. Inevitable, though? Yes. Xan is a rigid and xenophobic man who already detests the more worldly Pierre, and his lackey of a brother follows suit. Their feud is at first juvenile; Xan refers to Pierre as “Frenchy,” and he constantly points out how unalike he is from everyone else in the village. It’s childish until the brothers up their tactics, and taint Pierre and Olga’s water supply with car battery acid, thus spoiling their crops. The Frenchman doesn’t back down, and he ends up provoking his tormentors with a not-so-hidden video camera.

For a film rife with ugly human behavior, The Beasts is beautifully articulated. The two sides of this quarrel are displayed with mindful writing. On one hand, Pierre and Olga are unduly maligned after their decision in the wind-energy business; their choice wasn’t done out of spite, and Pierre’s explanation to Xan goes in one ear and out the other. As for Xan, it’s not hard to see why he’s so angry. One of the film’s most convincing and skillful scenes is when Pierre goes to clear the air with his enemies. The two camps aggressively announce their grievances with one another, but it’s Xan’s admission about his dream, had the wind-energy deal gone his way, that finally humanizes him. Is he being shortsighted, given the real reason why the Norwegians want to buy their land? Indeed, but for Xan, something is better than nothing. And with all his heart, Xan blames Pierre. Not only for robbing him of money, but reminding Xan of his standing in this unfair world.

There is almost no time to enjoy the film’s gorgeous landscapes; many outdoor scenes are eclipsed by characters’ pensive thoughts, tense conversations, or an unfortunate incident. The Beasts then reaches its most visually impressive summit once a certain event shifts the story’s perspective. Snow creeps in, matching the cold air of the film’s uneasy last act. An ignored voice in this whole sad ordeal is pushed to the forefront, and their softer, yet no less urgent presence offers a tone not found earlier. It’s risky, but the payoff and performances are rewarding.

While billed as a mystery, The Beasts doesn’t contain any mysteries in the overt or traditional sense. What happens between the two blades of this fight is done in plain view. On the contrary, the characters’ responses to conflict is what causes the most intrigue. There were also multiple chances where the story might have become preposterous or garish, but Sorogoyen and Peña keep everything relatively controlled and realistic. Even the most physically volatile moment of the whole film is more shocking because of its refreshing simplicity and directness.

The Beast is a well-told and expressive tale of extreme social friction. For the most part, its intensity stems from verbal confrontation, but as anticipated, the story escalates to show how far these altercations can go. A meditative approach to the central clash, however, is what what makes this cautionary film so effective.

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