Review by Sean Boelman
Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s The Beasts debuted at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival to great acclaim. Sadly, this seems to be a case of Eurocentrism at play, as although the film is entirely competent and means well, it presents a take on an important issue that is almost describable as tone-deaf.
The movie follows a French couple who moves to the Spanish countryside in the hopes of finding an escape, only to find their escape short-lived when they butt heads with the locals. This is the type of premise that should set up a battle of the wits thriller, but it is disappointingly lacking in the sharpness it needed to pull that genre off.
The film shows promise as an examination of xenophobia. However, when there are so many other stories to be told about this problem, it’s admittedly frustrating to see a tale of xenophobia committed by white people against white people. Although these issues exist, the movie’s argument feels like the xenophobia equivalent to “all lives matter.”
Although the first hour and a half are pretty compellingly paced, the film loses nearly all of its narrative momentum after that point. Ultimately, the movie feels somewhat unfocused. It either needed to be an examination of the consequences of hate, or a condemning depiction of the hate itself, but the combination of the two results in a film that feels bloated in its unnecessarily long runtime.
When you throw in an additional subplot about how the energy companies are attempting to steal the land (or at least not pay fair value) for development, there is simply too much going on in the movie. In trying to say something about a lot of things, the script manages to say very little about anything.
Sorogoyen manages to effectively maintain tension throughout the first two acts of the film through uncomfortably long takes with slow zooms. The focus is on the performances, and the entire ensemble is so captivating that the movie is entirely engaging. Unfortunately, the final act abandons the thriller genre — and it’s much less effective as a drama.
It’s really a shame that the script isn’t strong, as Sorogoyen has assembled an exquisite cast. Denis Ménochet elevates the subpar material with a performance that is extraordinarily nuanced. He manages to radiate both anger and vulnerability, showing a great deal of range. Marina Foïs is okay in the first half, but really gets a chance to shine in the final act. And while a bit one-note, there’s no denying how intimidating Luis Zahera is.
There are some commendable things about The Beasts, and it’s not reprehensible by any means. Still, there have been plenty of other, better films that have explored these themes in a more productive way. Your time would be better spent watching one of those instead. (R.M.N. is a recommendation that jumps to mind.)
The Beasts hits theaters on July 28.