Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Carol Laure, Caroline Dhavernas, Marc-Andre Grondin, David La Haye
Directed by Karim Hussain
Family. You can’t pick them, as the saying goes; no matter what you do you can never fully separate yourself from your family. For most, their family can be a major point of aggravation and stress in their lives. But next time you start feeling frustrated with the people you share blood with, pop in Karim Hussain’s The Beautiful Beast, and it’ll really put it all in perspective.
The story of Beast involves a mother, Louise (Laure) taking care of her two children, daughter Isabelle-Marie (Dhavernas) and son Patrice (Grondin) in the French countryside. Actually “taking care of” isn’t quite right; she heaps affection on quiet Patrice, who looks very much like his late father, while constantly telling Isabelle-Marie how ugly and rotten she is every chance she gets.
Their life is a daily struggle, with Isabelle-Marie taking out her frustrations on Patrice every chance she gets, abusing him physically and emotionally when their mother isn’t around, yet still having confusing sisterly affections for him. When their mother has to go to a conference for a few days, Isabelle is in charge of her brother and decides to pretend that she is the cruel mother, locking him in his room and depriving him of food and water.
Lousie returns, but not alone; she’s met a man and he’s going to part of their family now whether they like it or not. Patrice is not happy to have his mother’s affections diverted from him, Isabelle-Marie isn’t happy because the last thing she wants around the house is someone else to encourage her mother, and Louise isn’t happy because, well, she’s a very messed up woman.
Tensions rise in almost every scene of The Beautiful Beast, as helmer Hussain establishes early on that he’s not playing it anywhere near safe. This will likely serve to suck you in like it did my wife and I, until you really care about these people and their strange issues and their dynamic progressively gets more and more dysfunctional, even after Isabelle-Marie disappears after getting pregnant by a local boy, a local boy who mysteriously is never seen again. She returns years later with a beautiful little girl, and the cycle continues on until it all comes to a very cruel, though admittedly somewhat fitting, conclusion.
Stand out performances are really what keep Beast afloat; a story with this much tension and drama would have faltered in a big way if there had been a single bad performance. The film is fairly light on dialogue, so a lot is told through actions and facial expressions, a tactic that is also very dependent on the actors, so in this sense, too, Karim did a great job of making sure those cast were just right for their respective roles. Everyone hit the exact emotional place they needed to be for you to feel for them, which I’m sure was no easy task for either the director or the stars.
Hussain also makes fantastic use of both the French countryside where this strange family acts out its bizarre dance, and the house where they spend their lonely, miserable lives. As with good performances, serious camera work is necessary in a story like this to keep the viewer engrossed, another area where Hussain’s talents are in full display.
While it may not be “horror” in the strictest sense of the word, it’s disturbing, violent and engaging enough to keep those of you not suffering from ADD interested. The Beautiful Beast just won Best Feature at the Boston Underground Film Festival, which will hopefully mean good things for its release here in the US. We will, of course, let you know when we have more to share about it.
4 out of 5
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