The Beast Review

The Beast
The Beast
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At the very beginning of The Beast, an odd time-jumping dystopic half-drama/ half-satire by Bertrand Bonnello that takes its cue from many other things including but not limited to a couple’s perpetually disastrous relationship, Léa Seydoux is instructed to scream. An actress shooting a movie in the mid-2010s on set and on green screen using a knife against some invisible “beast,” is acted by her director. Off-screen, the emotions needed for her role are described: feelings of impending misfortune, despair, or any possible future termination. These are things we have now become familiar with in this 21st-century era of environmental disaster looming large over us, male brutality, and new technologies such as AI poised to take away jobs in their entirety. However, even though Bonnello’s newest work is just as timely as the others he has done recently, its central metaphor is too obvious and heavy-handed thereby losing any value.

The film takes place over three different times. In 1910 Seydoux plays a French aristocratic woman being courted by George MacKay’s flirty Englishman who persuades her to abandon her boring marriage for him on the day before Paris turns into soup due to a weather change of some sort. In 2014 Seydoux plays a struggling actress who has moved to Los Angeles and whose friendship with another starving artist brings her to the attention of a potentially violent incel (also played by MacKay) who sits in his car making videos about why girls should want him.

Finally, for example, it portrays a world where human life has come under full control of artificial intelligence, and humans themselves opt for medical procedures that can “cleanse their DNA” without bothering about these messy emotions anymore during depression which forces Gabrielle (the role played by Lea Seydoux) into agreeing to participate in them hence leading her through a psychic trip down memory lane and into the experience of her previous incarnations. In between, she meets a man called Louis (MacKay once more) who she seems to recognize.

On the surface, all this sounds fantastic. It’s very, very loosely based on Henry James’ superb novella The Beast in the Jungle which contains one of the most fatalistic parables about wasted time and with an ending that is as brutal as it gets in literature. This is Bonnello himself also known for his 2022 film Coma which was one of the few good “quarantine movies” and who went on to mix humanity, empathy, and brutality equally in his Nocturama (2016), a teen drama about terrorism. But while there are admittedly still some imitable tonal risks taken by this film just like its predecessors, so much of what follows after these feels too predictable.

There really isn’t anything new here. This includes borrowing heavily from both Cloud Atlas by Wachowskis with its Matroishka-like chronology and Jean Luc Godard’s Alphaville featuring an AI-controlled world; while a tragic moment near the end mirrors Twin Peaks: The Return. Some bits during the 2014 part especially have MacKay (purposefully) quoting Isla Vista shooter Elliot Rodger’s manifesto as he rants away. Basically, though, The Beast is powered mostly by stale clichés about Relationships Between Men And Women that already seem passé. How many times we have gone back to someone we shouldn’t have — we’ve all made that mistake before, haven’t we? What if we’re trapped in Groundhog Day but for relationships?

There is a movie within this movie or rather something good to focus on once you get over the rest of it. The idea of psychic time travel is a good one and The Beast employs it not only as a way to transport its characters from one era to another but also as an instrument for inserting bits of repeated dialogues that take up significance only at the climax of each section in order to form a domino effect that pushes the film towards its howling ending.

Seydoux fits just as comfortably into period bourgeois Parisian garb as she does outfits that could pass for those worn by TV commercial wannabes with jeans and boho tops, while her signature frosty demeanor merges seamlessly with the dark tones of the futuristic chapter. MacKay is actually mesmerizing playing out this obsessive incel-message-board fanatic, giving every line a stiff artificiality barely covering some deep-seated animal rage. Dasha Nekrasova from Red Scare now Dimes Square makes a couple of quick appearances channeling mid-2010s L.A. It girl.

It’s really difficult to say in summary what The Beast is all about. At some point, Seydoux cries out desperately, “We had it all and we fucked it up,” which could serve as some kind of summation for everything: tragic grandeur of yesteryears gone wrong; bright beginning turned into wasted hope; man’s progress ultimately defeated by soft yet undeniable technological domination. If only The Beast left the audience with something worth feeling emotional about before the machines take it all away.


Bertrand Bonello’s time-traveling odyssey contains much pleasure in watching two ill-starred souls meeting again and again across different timespans. By taking place in various settings, this offers an opportunity for its stars to flaunt their skills while working through metaphors and cliches that become increasingly obvious and exhausting as the film leads us toward its unavoidable finale. The various looming anxieties of The Beast want to make you scream, but ultimately it feels like a retread of things we’ve already seen.

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