The Beast review: "An elegant but ultimately unwieldy sci-fi drama”

The Beast
(Image: © Vertigo Releasing)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

An elegant, elliptical film that’s equal parts impressive and infuriating.

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Spanning two continents, three eras and who knows how many genres, this unwieldy sci-fi drama from French auteur Bertrand Bonello (2016’s Nocturama) fully commits to its title. Loosely inspired by a 1903 Henry James novella, it stars Lea Seydoux and George MacKay (replacing Bonello regular Gaspard Ulliel, who died before filming) as two people whose paths keep crossing through the ages. 

In Paris, 1910, she’s a pianist, he’s her suitor; in LA, 2014, she’s an actor/model, he’s her stalker; and in an unspecified location in 2044, she undergoes a mysterious procedure to purify her DNA – the reason, perhaps, for all the time-shifting that we’ve seen. 

In each period there are common elements. Pigeons recur, as do clairvoyants, nightclubs, dolls and works of art such as Madame Butterfly. And throughout, Seydoux’s character is terrified of an unspecified disaster: the eponymous beast. So we experience a flooded Paris and an LA earthquake and hear of an off-screen Armageddon averted by AI. It is, to use 2024 parlance, a lot.

Seydoux is reliably luminous in a demanding role, but MacKay seems a little rudderless. There are some stunning moments, such as the eerily green-screened opener, and an unsettling underwater sequence up there with Dario Argento’s Inferno. 

But the 145-minute runtime feels increasingly indulgent, and Bonello borrows heavily from Kubrick, Lynch and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Ultimately, it’s hard not to agree with one character’s assessment of a piece of classical music: "It’s very inventive, but it’s hard to find emotion in it."

The Beast is in UK cinemas on May 31 and is in US theaters now. 

For more upcoming movies, here's our guide to 2024 movie release dates.

Freelance Writer

Matt Glasby is a freelance film and TV journalist. You can find his work on Total Film - in print and online - as well as at publications like the Radio Times, Channel 4, DVD REview, Flicks, GQ, Hotdog, Little White Lies, and SFX, among others. He is also the author of several novels, including The Book of Horror: The Anatomy of Fear in Film and Britpop Cinema: From Trainspotting To This Is England.