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Beast (2006-8)
Director: Chris Jupp

review by Paul Higson

The unusual history of Chris Jupp's Beast grants the film a get out of jail free card; an automatic interest factor rating regardless of the end product. Jupp's debut feature is adapted from the original screenplay for Skare, the Michael J. Murphy film of 2000 that was his last to be shot on 16mm and the majority of which was lost by the Royal Mail on the way to the film lab for processing. The disaster hit Murphy so hard that his initial reaction, based on an experience of previously cursed projects, was to leave Skare lost. When Murphy moved next immediately into digital movie-making it was with a new script. Chris Jupp, looking for a handy script for his initial foray into feature film production asked for permission to re-approach it with some light revision on Murphy's original story. Murphy was amenable and Jupp jumped to it.

Filming began with Murphy on board for sections of the shoot, sharing '1st unit' camera duties with Anthony Christie and Rob Stokes (the production had a further four people on 2nd unit) and on the editing alongside Chris Jupp, Christie again and old Murlin dutiful Tony Bannister. There came a point when that auteur in Murphy inevitably brought a change of heart and before the end of 2006 he too moved quickly into production and remade Skare. So now we have the bizarre situation wherein a screen premise that it was feared may be lost forever has been rescued not once but twice. It would be very tempting to compare the two but a detailed examination will have to wait as Skare, after all, has only recently entered its latest re-edit. On top of that I am rightly not permitted to pass comment on Skare based on the earlier cuts. Having said that, I think some differences can be drawn that will not compromise the Murphy remake.

Beast is no marvel and the simple fact that it was made for under �1,000 can either plump up a regard for the film or have no bearing at all on the outcome. The film is an independent production and ultimately so. Most might see only the buttons for which it was made but the super-attentive and the casually receptive might find enough to appreciate in this initial directorial shot. It is interesting to compare it to Sean Ellis' The Broken and Anya Camilleri's Incubus, two recent British films with much healthier budgets. It would be easy to knock Beast on where it goes wrong, but in common with the work of Michael J. Murphy, and unlike The Broken and Incubus, the director understands that he has a duty to keep the film interesting, and Beast is certainly bubbling with enthusiasm and buoyant with activity. The Broken did not have enough story or character, stretching its insufficiencies to interminable ends. Incubus is far worse than The Broken and is undeserving of a full review, which is why I will take advantage and sneak in some brief coverage here.

Incubus ticks every box in what is obviously a quite deliberate attempt to irritate me. A 'British' film, it is set in Montana but filmed in the Czech Republic. Most of the crew is Czech. There is hardly anything beyond an address for one of the co-production companies to link it to the UK. If Incubus is British it is bashfully so. Then there is the content. Money has been poured into the film, otherwise, how does one nab Tara Reid for a cast member? But the content is hopeless with ciphers moping around dark corridors, a stupid sci-fi horror storyline, rubbish dialogue, stilted delivery and a half-asleep cast... I cannot find the first positive thing to say about Incubus. The director is the daughter of a notable classical composer (who passed away recently) and that may answer the question as to how she found herself fronting this waste of money. Beast may have many faults but it understands (and this is what Michael J. Murphy also understands) that each scene should work towards the development of the story, that each character should have a specific and useful role in the drama, and that it should not take any unnecessary pauses. This way, attention is held and the diversionary twin roles that are entertainment and removal from the real world are achieved. There is no excuse for The Broken and Incubus being poor and worse than bilge. There are, however, excuses for Beast and its shortcomings.

Beast is the same story as Skare but at the same time succeeds in becoming a different film. The plotting in Beast is close: escaped maniac John (Chris Jupp) is given refuge by Alice (Kate Faulkner), a strange woman living alone in a remote cottage who provides meals for a local restaurant run by a beautiful young proprietor (played by Helen Jolley). Having seen three cuts of Skare there are bound to be bouts of deja vu. I suspect that at times, though I am assured that his stint on the film was brief, Murphy may have composed shots that he would fine-tune for his own remake at the same time that he was rescuing shots from the lost Skare (for example, the close-up of the decapitated head in a black plastic bag as it is removed from the freezer very closely resembles surviving images from the missing production).

The cook again is a cannibal preparing meals for the restaurant with that standard 'long pig' special ingredient. As is commonly the fantasy in cannibal restaurant films (Motel Hell, The Folks At The Red Wolf Inn), the secret ingredient has people clamouring back for more. John will refuse the advances of Alice and sleep with the restaurateur, who, it is later disclosed, is complicit in these heinous wrongdoings. Again, the scheming Alice will orchestrate John's killing of the younger woman.

There are many changes, including the addition of a legendary creature in the surrounding woods. The creature is useful when it comes to deferring suspicion as to the fate of a number of missing people, all of whom, of course, have actually happened in the direction of Alice's kitchen. Beast has its own ending too... no spoilers tonight though. One of the greatest differences between Beast and Skare is the size of the cast. The 2006 Skare, like a number of Murphy's previous psychological thrillers, conserves energy by dint of a small cast. Jupp, however, numbers up on the speaking parts and extras. As a result, Skare is more intimate and Beast sprawling. In Beast, however, the three leads continue to be the dominant characters... even though the focus is removed from them somewhat. In comparing the players on the two films Kate Faulkner (Alice) is the equal of Judith Holding in the same role (Martha) in Skare, despite different takes on the character. Holding had played the part with a certain weariness and dogmatism that earthed her character to a reality that was not always the case across the film whereas here, in Beast, Faulkner is observably unstable. In Alice she courts a barely controlled excitability which tallies with her eccentric outsider status. On the casting of their female protagonists both films achieve a score draw. Helen Jolley is again the equal of her Skare counterpart, in a role that requires her to do little more than look good and act a mite seductively, not that either actress would have to work too hard to persuade a man to do anything for them. Jupp in the lead is a step up from the male lead of Skare though. I never found Warren May's Dan convincing, either as a madman or a killer, whereas Jupp brings a credible thickset thuggery to the role of John. Elsewhere, Mark White breathes some refreshingly real character into his detective role, though comic in tone. However, with a large cast the quality of the performances can vary greatly and does. The delivery ranges from the earnest to a failed comprehension of the true meaning of the words falling out of one's gob.

�1,000 buys a lot here but also a hill of extraneous compromises. Locations and shots and props and effects may not be as they were originally at best imagined. The image quality shifts and is sometimes compressed; squidged slightly. A zoom that is not captured on location is done instead in post-production and obviously so as the framing is lost and the image blurs. The trick zoom should be dispensed with and a static shot returned. There are also shifts in the sound quality with sudden rises in volume. More amusing are the press conferences, which were perhaps originally set-up as a single episode. They are located in an ordinary house hallway. The police and the reporters are identical at the two briefings, people, clothes and even their positions in relation to one another remain the same. The hum of a child (which may also be the hum of an adult) on the soundtrack becomes as annoying as a buzzing fly over the course of the film and I really detest the crass closing track (one, I am untouched by the original song, and two, dead set against the shouty football add-ons) that may have to go as copyright on it probably considerably outstrips the spent budget.

The film opens with a screen-up of words that are few but as the viewer is relaxed at this stage and unprepared for them they race too quickly up the screen and out of shot before they can be read and taken in. A cheat is attempted in one scene where John awakes to find a written message by his beside. The classic cliché of the writing presented on screen and the writer of the note heard in voiceover is played out, but the filmmaker has covered himself by having Faulkner read the lines out aloud on location. The aim of this might have been an attempt to save on re-recording or guard against the necessity to haul the poor actress back in for post-production dubbing, but it is too distinctly and confusingly coming from the same room... and the viewer is only certain that it is not when it cuts to the next shot and he approaches her in another room while she sleeps that we know that the intention was the voice be heard as remote.

The filmed story ends around the 75-minute point but the credits take it up to 87 minutes with the inclusion of outtakes. The extent of the outtakes may seem like overdoing it but they are valid inasmuch as that they are mostly funny (unlike the BBC which fills its 'Aunties bloomers' shows with exclusively bland erratum) and are on occasion instructive. Particularly worrying is the sequence during which Kate attacks Karen Murphy with a hatchet, who almost hysterically laughs off the moment when the assumedly blunt blade strikes her. There is a clear sense of fun about the production and though the sense of humour of the company is, as intended, not always on screen it is very evident in the outtakes.

How to move this film? How do you dispose of any movie these days? On a budget of under �1,000 it should not be too difficult to recoup the budget but a lot of favours will have been called upon. It may not be as easy to call on the same charitable support and fervour for the next and future film productions. The balance for a future career will be set on building upon the budget and having sufficient return revenue to enable that, while at the same time keeping those on deferred payments and voluntary engagement happy. Beast could provide sufficient filler but would need some cleaning up first, as most would be heavily distracted and dismayed by some of its cheaper aspects which scream louder than any of terrorised victims in his film.
Beast, 2008



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