There’s hardly a step wrong or a predictable turn in debut writer-director Michael Pearce’s darkly tempting, tempest-tossed Jersey-set “Beast,” a murderous drama of bittersweet emotion based on the history of the real-life “Beast of Jersey.” Beauties and beasts and men in the woods: Flame-tressed young Moll (Jessie Buckley), on the run from her own twenty-seventh birthday party fatefully meets a handsome, dashing stranger, Pascal (Johnny Flynn), whose passions match hers. When Pascal is suspected in the latest of a series of sexually driven serial killings of girls, Moll must make a choice between family and fervor. “I grew up in Jersey and I knew I wanted to make my first film there,” Pearce says of his stylish satisfier in the press kit. “It has a very unique landscape—scenic and wild— but it’s also conservative in terms of its values and its culture. As a child it was both freeing and stifling.” Don’t prepare for twists: the story’s progression is surpassingly gratifying in unexpected fashion. With Trystan Gravelle, Geraldine James, Charley Palmer Rothwell, Hattie Gotobed. 107m. (Ray Pride)
“Beast” opens Friday, May 18 at River East, Landmark Century and Century Evanston.