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New York Film Festival: The Beast (2023) Review

I really wanted to like Bertrand Bonello’s new sci-fi romance, even naming it one of my most anticipated 2023 movies. It’s based on Henry James’ 1903 novella, following Gabrielle as she tries to purify her DNA from the threat of emotion; but once she’s hooked to a machine and made to re-live her past lives, she meets Louis and instantly senses their strong connection. Following this couple through their different iterations in 1910, 2014 and 2044, this movie should’ve been a heart-wrenching meditation on fate, time and human connection. But by the time credits rolled, I can’t say I had a deeper or more nuanced understanding of these characters or their love for one another or even their individual desires. Instead, I was just glad it was over.

Before going any further, I want to talk about how well-acted this movie was. Léa Seydoux did a great job as Gabrielle, showcasing not only the full spectrum of emotion but making Gabrielle feel like a different person in each era, which should’ve made the time jumps more followable. George MacKay also gave a wonderful performance as Louis, showing a lot of commitment to the role and having great chemistry with Seydoux. Together, these characters dominated the screen, and their acting was emphasized by some great visuals.

The set design in this movie is something to behold. The pool of sludge Seydoux’s lowered into, a building that floods towards the beginning, the backgrounds of this movie have such a tactile feel that helps viewers feel immersed in the world and also provides a lot of grounding. Creating such a strong sense of place should have allowed Bonello and fellow screenwriters Guillaume Bréaud and Benjamin Charbit to take as many jumps in space-time as they saw fit without us ever losing the plot, but there’s only so much set designers and actors can do with the material they’ve been given. At the end of the day, this movie's writing had a lot of issues.

Despite so much grounding both in the performances and in the environments, this film felt listless. The time jumps melted into each other, never really having a sense of cohesion or thematic continuity. For me, the main issue was that I never found the heart of the movie, so the jumps only made it that much harder to really pinpoint what the film was trying to say. There might be some that argue the film wasn’t trying to say anything, and that’s okay, but then I would ask why even go through the trouble of making a movie in the first place. This lack of substance became a big problem, eventually affecting the pacing and causing each scene (and thereby the entire movie) stretch for far longer than it needed to.

I found this film frustrating in how it simply refused to take advantage of its many strengths. There might be a longer version of this movie where we really understand this connection Louis and Gabrielle share, but the version I saw in the theater was not that. Overwrought, muddled and a bit on the melodramatic side, I can’t recommend you watch this—and you might not have to, considering it’s yet to pick up a US distributor. If you enjoyed this review, consider subscribing to the blog’s Patreon by clicking here! It helps pay the various fees that come with running a website, and keeps this blog ad-free and independent. There are also some cool benefits for those who choose to support the blog including: suggesting which movies I review, getting personalized movie recommendations, access to free giveaways and more! I'll be posting more thoughts from NYFF this week, so there's never been a better time to join!


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