Whenever I’ve mentioned that, some readers have said the same, and – every now and then – a few of them have even swapped stories about their small-town life. Some of these experiences are quaint and/or humble while others might elicit some laughter and/or head-scratching as to how any of us ever got out alive. What’s usually missing from their tales, however, is any sense of violence or thuggery that was sadly common in my little corner of youth. A former mecca of industry, the place had bred some hard individuals, the type of which didn’t go quietly into the night when big companies pulled out of the Midwest for other, more accessible locations. Their frustration turned to some pronounced anger, at times, and the stark reality of their circumstances produced a good number of bullies – men and women who tended to raise only more bullies – so it wasn’t exactly Mayberry to me, if you understand the reference.
Growing up being surrounded by bullies – when you’re a bit of a creative soul like I was – is no easy thing. You find ways to ‘get along’ as you can, but – more often than not – you end up simply trying to avoid the people with established track records of making life difficult. This wasn’t always easy to do, so I did what I could to learn the lessons available to me in hopes that I’d eventually put it all to good use once I was out and about in the wide, wide world beyond those four corners.
This upbringing is not all that dissimilar from the experiences of the married couple Antoine and Olga aboard Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s Neo-noir/Drama The Beasts (2022) from Arcadia Motion Pictures. This loving and not-necessarily-progressive pair find their dream home is far from idyllic in the rural village of Galicia. Their rustic, backwoods existence gets interrupted – first by investors looking for property ripe for development of wind farms and then by neighbors angered when the pair refuse to sell – and their commitment to one another and their land sets off a chain of events that proves small town life is very, very, very far from perfect.
It can be downright deadly.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, an expatriate French couple operate an organic farm in the Spanish countryside but clash with villagers.”
There is far more to this story than that synopsis explains.
Well over two hours in run-time, The Beasts definitely takes great strides to both define its small cast of characters as well as the collective circumstances that unfold over the course of some time. Simply put, this is not your typical motion picture exploring the complexities of small-town existence or the simplicity of ‘living off the land.’ These are folks who have been both moved and shaped by the harshness of their environment and its isolation as well as they have by rightness or wrongness of their own choices. There are no cookie-cutter solutions here, despite one man’s insistence that he could’ve found prosperity off the meager fortune a quick decision could’ve netted. Raised in an almost unforgiving backwater teaches one to do what’s necessary to not only survive but get ahead, and these are the politics making this Peyton Place about as dangerous as a New York City slum alley after midnight.
Suffice it to say, The Beasts is not a film to be taken lightly.
To a degree, you’re dealing with a Hatfields & McCoys’ level of dastardliness here; and the brothers Xan (played by Luis Zahera) and Lorenzo (Diego Anido) mean business when they give you a piece of neighborly advice. What starts out as shenanigans rather quickly evolves into some lethal skullduggery, leaving our leads with no effective legal recourse nor local police with the resources to do anything effective. They are, in fact, the very beasts of the film’s title, proving without a doubt that animals left to roam free and do as they please – without the normal restraints of society and conscience – will eventually escalate into areas saner minds simply don’t contemplate much less consider. Theirs is an existence that knows no true happiness, choosing instead to fill it with whatever whim serves their appetites best in the heat of the moment.
Thankfully, the film is strengthened by Marina Foïs incredible performance as Olga. Even in the face of the direst circumstances, she remains the dutiful wife – well after the loss of her husband – who refuses to cower to bullies and ne’er-do-wells. When the wheels are justice won’t spin as they should, she continues in the face of adversity to push her own mission forward. It’s only through her staunch commitment to the man she loved that the audience receives a glimmer of hope that maybe the world can be a different – but not ‘better’ – place.
Lastly, I’d be remiss in my responsibilities if I failed to mention that The Beasts was the recipient of an astonishing wealth of positive praise across a vast spectrum of the entertainment industrial complex. As of today’s date (per IMDB.com), the film has garnered an incredible fifty-seven wins – with another 32 nominations – and that is impressive, indeed. Festival audiences and industry organizations have loved what they’ve seen, and that fact alone might serve enough notice for interested parties to check this one out. It’s a tad slow burning – taking great pains to establish its characters and circumstances – and it’s very disturbing at times … but it’s a powerful picture exposing the darkness that hides in some men’s souls.
The Beasts (2022) was produced by Arcadia Motion Pictures, Caballo Films, Cronos Entertainment, Le Pacte, Latido Films, and several other participants. (A full accounting of all partners is available on IMDB.com for readers who like that kind of minutiae.) DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the fine folks at Kino Lorber. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I thought that the sights and sounds to this whole production were incredible; no expense was spared in captured the various moods in this sometimes-picturesque settings. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? Alas, there was nothing extra to consider … a big disappointment.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Kino Lorber provided me with a complimentary DVD of The Beasts (2022) by request for the expressed purpose of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.