The Beasts Review
Sometimes a respected film-maker's career shows that they have followed in the wake of great directors who have influenced them. John Woo's apprenticeship under Chang Cheh is one such example, and you might argue that Takashi Miike followed the great Shohei Imamura as well. Sometimes though the early work of renowned artists simply shows that they have needed to work to eat like the rest of us, remember that even the director of The Godfather had to make a living in porn before he was famous. The case in point here is Stanley Kwan, director of the superb Rouge, who worked as an assistant director for both Ronny Yu and Jackie Chan in his early career, but also worked on the decidedly unsavoury rape and revenge flick that is The Beasts.
Essentially, The Beasts is a 1980 revenge tale set in the modern day and pandering to the then recent western trend of bodycount movies like Friday the Thirteenth. The film is in two halves, the first is an ominous camping trip to the inbred back of beyond of some townie teenies. The trendy youngsters soon find themselves the subject of ogling by a Neanderthal gang of layabouts, and the deeply unfortunate Ling is deserted by her friends and left to face repeated sexual assault by the local imbeciles. The final half follows Ling's father as he visits his own very bloody justice on the throwbacks who destroyed his daughter.
It would be wrong to pretend that this is a particularly tasteful film. Rape is presented as a country pastime, nervous breakdowns involve brushing your teeth from the toilet bowl, and the reprehensible scumbags who commit the foul deeds are presented, at least partially, for comedic effect. Still, unattractive ethics are not unusual for this kind of film as the chief incentive to make them is that they are quick, simple and easily consumed by the public for their vicarious blood-lust. Unsurprisingly in this case, the level of elementary care in areas like screenplay or acting is rather slapdash, and the people directing are content to hit as many buttons as possible in the hope that at least one will remain memorable. Horror, comedy, drama - all are deployed and the tone becomes wildly uneven as at one moment the action is bordering on serious drama and in the blink of an eye it becomes knockabout farce.
A wandering tone can be put right with a reliable editor or a talented director, but here neither man is up to the job of rescuing the story. I can say that two sequences stand out as being competent, but the great majority of the work on show here is desperately bad and heads towards parody, rather than building tension or providing satisfying pay-offs. The opening half involves young people who are irritating cardboard cut-outs with the awareness and good sense of a speed hump, and the second half switches to the silent angry dad and the gang of morons he is hunting. If Aliens came from another planet and saw The Beasts en route, they might conclude that the best of humanity, the kids, are too stupid and horny to save, and that the worst of our world, the layabouts, are little different. In an intelligent film that might be an interesting conclusion to reach, this is not an intelligent film.
The competent sequences come in some shots of the hospitalised Ling, haloed in a white light whilst her mind has gone down the U-bend, and a night time confrontation in a beautifully lit forest of blue. The photography of the film is one of its few assets, as the actors make up for a lack of detail on the page by over-egging caricature and the story has little desire other than to stretch to ninety minutes and be as shocking as its myopic imagination can manage. Oh, and this film is very cruel to animals - bi-bisected rats, chopped snakes, all are grist to the sleazy mill.
The Beasts is dreadful and incompetent, even a surfeit of drugs or alcohol will not change that. If you don't feel sick at the rape as entertainment angle, then you should probably see a shrink fast. Nasty, trashy and not in a good way, and I am quite sure Kwan's CV omits any reference to this rubbish.
On the plus side, this region free disc comes with a transfer which is not a standards conversion, as it is left as a PAL presentation. The negative side of things is very lengthy though. The subtitles are truly awful, they are burnt in and translated very poorly, and translate dialogue which isn't even there! The sound is rather flat and jumpy, with plenty of background noise adding to an effect not altogether different to listening to a transistor radio. The disc possesses no extra features and no menu.
The video quality is indifferent as well with a very battered print that has missing frames and shows a lot of damage. Colours are washed out with the white subtitles often lost in light backgrounds, and the overall image lacks strong contrast and sharpness. The transfer is non-anamorphic and I would compare the overall quality to that of an okay bootleg. The whole package comes in a cardboard dust-sleeve.
The Beasts is beastly and this presentation is poor as well.