A Spanish thriller that's been soaking up awards and international acclaim makes its Edmonton premiere at Metro Cinema
By Liam Newbigging | August 9, 2023
In director Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s The Beasts, the beautiful Spanish countryside seems like an unlikely setting for a bone-chilling thriller, but it’s the consequences of this provincial setting and the forces from the world around it that drives its inhabitants to barbarism.
The film follows a French couple, Antoine, and Olga Denis, who have moved to a small village in modern-day Galicia, Spain, to fulfill their dream of living out retirement as farmers while helping rehabilitate houses in the largely abandoned community. But where they first found peace has turned slightly hostile, as wind turbine developers have made the village an offer which the couple voted against, but the majority of their neighbours support. The turbines threaten Antoine and Olga’s dream and the longevity of the community, but the village wants the money so they can try to find better lives.
Tensions between Antoine and his next-door neighbours, brothers Xan and Lorenzo Anta, rise in lieu of the offer, as the Antas have become tired of living in a dilapidated “ghost town.” Where Antoine used to find a friend, he soon finds hostility as the Antas taunt him, calling him “Frenchy.” When Antoine finds signs of theft and vandalism on his property, tensions escalate, and Antoine begins secretly filming for evidence. It’s only a matter of time before the rising conflict breaks out into violence, and the grim nature of desperation and envy shows its bestial face.
Denis Ménochet, who played Perrier LaPadite in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, takes the lead as Antoine Denis in another film where the immense pressure turns his stone-cold demeanour into a theatrical diamond. Ménochet boulders his way through early scenes with stoic ambiguity and an impenetrable disposition towards his taunters and anyone’s attempts to sway his decision. In contrast, when with his wife, Olga, or his daughter and grandson, the ice around Ménochet melts and a warm and caring family man is revealed.
Xan (Luis Zahera), is the big dog in this small town, and his brother Lorenzo (Diego Anido) is the typical lackey: a real Gaston and his LeFou. Zahera commands the entire room in each scene with the same charisma as an authoritarian, which barks away any who would oppose what he has to say.
In the latter half of the film, Olga (Marina Foïs) becomes the main focus. Her joy which could be seen earlier in the film has turned cold with the onset of the winter around her. But her conviction matches her husband’s, and even when her daughter begs her to return from this town that has become hopelessly twisted, she doesn’t back down from what drives her.
The Beasts is a nail-biter that has substance and character to fuel its appetite for human wickedness. But in the end, after the true beasts are revealed, there is still a hopeful olive branch of humanity.