(By Mark Gonzales) The Slasher Genre has long needed a new figure to enter the pantheon of great killers. Who will step up and take their place next to Michael, Jason, and Freddy? If you are hoping that it will be Milton/Harvey, the killer who wears a papier-mâché bunny head and kills with a mallet… you will be shown to be wrong with one viewing of Beloved Beast…
…Written and directed by Jonathan Holbrook (Tall Men), Beloved Beast is an ambitious and, at times, effective film. The main plot of the film follows a recently orphaned girl named Nina (The Black String's Sanae Loutsis) who is forced to live with her alcoholic and drug enthusiast aunt. While mostly taking care of herself, Nina befriends an escaped mental patient who acts as her murderous protector. Imagine a Friday The 13th film where Jason decides to protect one of the camp counselors while killing every other person in town and you've got a pretty good idea of what we are in for.
I say that this is the main plot of the film because there are three or four side plots that do little more than contribute to the movie's bloated three hour run time. There is a story of Nina's aunt's attempt to raise money by becoming a drug dealer, a bizarre plot to kidnap Nina and put her into a snuff film, and finally, tales from the mostly inept and entirely ineffective local police department. As the film cut away from Nina to follow these other story lines, it became increasingly difficult to maintain interest in the film. Holbrook's ambitious goal of telling multiple stories to give a sense of a whole town of madmen and killers ends up working against the film. Too much is going on for a plot as simple as "escaped mental patient kills people" and viewers will quickly lose interest in any of the story lines.
Had the film been trimmed down to a respectable 90 minutes, it would be stronger as a whole. The viewer's mind wouldn't wander when we find ourselves in a scene where Nina's aunt finds herself face to face with the drunk driver who orphaned Nina and, rather than call him an asshole (at least), has sex with him in exchange for 'shrooms. Similar strange and ultimately pointless scenes occur throughout the film. Had these scenes simply been cut from the script or excised in the edit, this would be a much more favorable review. A young girl befriends a murderer is enough of a story to sustain a film for 90 minutes. Unfortunately, this film is filled with unnecessary additions and spends far too much time following ancillary characters like the police.
The actions and opinions of the police in this film are beyond confusing. Shortly after our killer escapes the mental hospital, killing five people on his way out, the chief of police tells us the killer's backstory. He was a mentally challenged boy who killed local pets for his own amusement. At the age of ten, his deeply disturbed mother snapped and poured hot grease on his head, scarring him for life. It's as good an origin story as you could expect for a Slasher film and, on its own, would have been fine. But, once again, the filmmakers decided to get in their own way by adding unnecessary details and having the chief of police repeatedly state that our escaped killer has "Retard Strength" and should be shot on sight. I don't doubt that small town police chiefs in horror films might be assholes that yearn for the opportunity to kill the physically scarred and mentally handicapped. But it's a weird detail to throw into the film. In a scene that should take 60 seconds to explain the origins and the threat of a killer, we are instead given a seven-minute conversation that raises so many questions. Am I supposed to dislike the police in this film? If so, why? If not, why make the chief into such an unfeeling jerk?
Almost every character in this film is an unrepentant dick hole. Somewhere around hour two of the film, our compassionate and scientifically sound police chief states that the small town is haunted and naturally attacks killers, drug dealers, and drug addicts. Or maybe, and this is just my own theory, the town has a reputation amongst career criminals as having one of the worst police departments of all time. When our killer bludgeons three teenagers, the chief looks at the crime scene photos and tells us that he doesn't really care because the teens were rich. Something tells me the chief has some similar reason not to give a shit about almost any crime that comes his way.
It's possible that the filmmakers were trying to show us how dangerous the world is for an innocent like Nina by surrounding her with a bunch of uncaring rat dicks but it doesn't make for a fun viewing experience. I wanted to care about Nina's aunt. She's a drunken mess who is given an opportunity to grow as a character by taking care of and protecting Nina. Instead she leaves Nina alone, forgets that children like to be fed at least once a day, and tells Nina that her recently deceased mother was a bitch. Why is any of this happening, you will ask yourself throughout the film.
The answer to this question may lie in the films and filmmakers that Holbrook has been influenced by. Watching Beloved Beast, you will see the obvious influences of Del Toro and David Lynch. Much is cribbed from Pan's Labyrinth, Twin Peaks, and Wild at Heart. The Lynchian influences are especially present in the editing and in the film's humorous moments. While Lynch is beloved for his surreal images, shocking violence, and off-beat humor, when these same techniques are used in Beloved Beast, everything just feels false. Holbrook is not Lynch. He can use all of Lynch's tools but it won't make this film better.
I think, again, this comes down to a matter of ambition. Beloved Beast is clammy with sweat stains of effort on the part of the actors and filmmakers to turn this low budget Slasher film into something it is not. The parts where this film works are when it has our killer being a killer and our young hero being scared of him. Everything else that happens in the film is unnecessary and hurts the final product.
I look forward to seeing more from Jonathan Holbrook but hope that he can restrain himself in his future films or, at the very least, find an editor who can trim the unnecessary and bewildering from his films.
Beloved Beast will potentially release next summer.
By Mark Gonzales