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Movie Review: “THE BEAST” Tinkers With Time and Memory

Monday, April 8, 2024 | Reviews


Starring Léa Seydoux, George MacKay and Guslagie Malanda
Directed by Bertrand Bonello
Written by Bertrand Bonello, Guillaume Bréaud and Benjamin Charbit
Sideshow/Janus Films

Turning a Henry James novella into a multi-chronological tale of love and dread across hundreds of years sounds like quite the undertaking. And it is. THE BEAST takes on this task with grace and a bit of intentional murkiness. Along the way, it also manages to somehow uniquely examine memory and fate, all in a disturbing and inevitable package.

Before launching into the overlapping plots, consistent characters and immersive art design, it must first be stated that THE BEAST lives and dies with Léa Seydoux’s transcendent performance. After her recent roles in Dune: Part Two, Blue is the Warmest Color and Crimes of the Future, it is no secret that she can act circles around any emotion or complication presented to her, but here, she outdoes herself. George MacKay is deserving of much praise as well as Seydoux’s constant counterpart. Yet, the truth is that much is demanded of Seydoux in THE BEAST, and she absolutely blows the audience away with every single sigh, scream and thoughtful reflection.

That said, THE BEAST asks a lot of its actors and the audience. The film first starts with Gabrielle (Seydoux) in contemporary times, auditioning, for what seems to be a horror film, in front of a green screen. With very little prep, she is asked to respond with terror to something that is not there and to prepare to defend herself against this imaginary monster. After swiftly rising to the occasion, the film wastes no time in yanking the plot to what first seems to be a completely random place and time. But with a little trust, all will be revealed.

In this next version of reality, it is the near future, and not all is well. Unemployment is rampant, though knitwear is on fleek (Do we still say “on fleek”?). Gabrielle, with a longer hairdo, is interviewing for a less boring job, when it becomes clear that her emotions are a problem. Not the existence of emotions but the feeling and effect that these reactions are preventing her from moving further in this society. Thankfully, they have a remedy. As Gabrielle is led through this cure, stories from the past, starring her and the man she just ran into, Louis (MacKay), cross her consciousness and the screen.

This is likely where THE BEAST will lose some of its audience. The film does not seem to be concerned with making these transitions easy to follow. They are by no means confusing, as the art direction and costuming do much of the heavy lifting to identify timelines, but no hands are being held as we fly through these juxtapositions. Initially jarring, THE BEAST focuses on telling Gabrielle’s story of childhood unease and her mysterious history with Louis instead of courting the audience’s comfort.

Much like the source novella, The Beast in the Jungle, there is a prevalent theme of unspecified doom. Not only is fatalism discussed at length in one of the timelines, but it also feels like a hanging metaphorical cloud over all of the characters’ lives. This tension pays off in various ways throughout the film, only to dive into the next dread-filled chronology and start it all over again.

THE BEAST is not the most accessible film. Director/co-writer Bertrand Bonello asks for an awful lot of patience and trust from his actors, his audience and his script. Giving over to the film and embracing its language and uncertainty is worth the personal surrender.

Deirdre is a Chicago-based film critic and life-long horror fan. In addition to writing for RUE MORGUE, she also contributes to C-Ville Weekly,, and belongs to the Chicago Film Critics Association. She's got two black cats and wrote her Master's thesis on George Romero.