The Very Best
Galicia's tourist board can’t be thrilled with this one.
In The Beasts, the idyllic semi-retirement that a French couple seeks in the Galician countryside — growing organic vegetables, fixing up abandoned farmhouses — devolves into a terrifying slow-burn nightmare. This beautifully shot yet spiritually ugly thriller plunges us straight into an atmosphere of crackling social tension that never abates. We begin after the event that turns local farmer Xan (Luis Zahera) and his brother Loren (Diego Anido) against French transplants Antoine (Denis Ménochet) and Olga (Marina Foïs): the latter two have vetoed the sale of land to a wind turbine company in favor of preserving the village’s rustic character. Incensed by what he sees as the theft of his birthright by an outsider, Xan orchestrates a steadily intensifying campaign of terror against the couple.
Though much slighter than the physically imposing Ménochet, Zahera makes for a profoundly menacing presence, and Xan’s seemingly endless appetite for hostility and vindictiveness charges the film with a deeply unsettling sense of inevitability. His performance alone would mark The Beasts as a standout, but an unexpected switch in character focus late on in the film wrests it out of Xan’s grasp and reorients the movie as a study of grim resolve — making it a film of two equally remarkable halves.
That pivot in protagonist. Where the first hour-and-a-half of the film is suffused with noxious chauvinism and hissing rage, the final third is a psychological portrait of an entirely different kind, as our new lead — largely sidelined in earlier scenes — brings stony resolve to the fore. It’s a real risk, attempting such a change of tack, but the performance it relies on proves to be just as authoritative as Zahera’s menacing turn and opens The Beasts up to a quieter power.
What did you think? Who should watch it?