‘Beloved Beast’ : A Long Strange Trip
I have to admit that I knew nothing about this movie before going in, but I loved the vibe of the movie poster. With a run time of 173 minutes, this is definitely one of the longest horror movies in recent memory. Overall, the movie worked for me. The writer and director, Jonathan Holbrook, takes us on a Lynchian journey that interlaces horror and crime drama in a small town… it’s a stylized twist of fantasy and slasher themes that Holbrook expertly pulls off. And I was particularly impressed with the special makeup effects in this movie, courtesy of artist Ret Harrison, who provided realistic practical effects. The narration (by Ty Anderson) speaks of a “Rabbit King” and his daughter, the princess, that alludes to one of the main characters, Nina (Sanae Lotusis). I found this narration to add a wonderful fantasy vibe that I fell into right away. The movie has a few different subplots that weave into one another creating a surreal tone. The dialog was sparse at times, but the visuals more than filled the void. Most of the characters in this movie have their own oddities that make them likable. Some of the things that did not work for me, however, were the performances by Aunt Irma (Joy Yaholkovsky) and Sydney the child advocate (Elizabeth Rhoades). Their on-screen presence seemed amateurish and took me out of the movie. Also, there were a couple scenes I felt went too long or that were flat-out unnecessary.
The movie starts with a man walking through a field in a bloody hospital gown and the audience only sees the back of him while a narrator, voiced over, speaks of another time and place where a Rabbit King is awaked from a deep slumber due to something wicked stirring. The director then takes us to a scene of an accident with casualties where we are introduced to one of our main characters, Nina, a quiet 12-year-old who views her life through The Rabbit King book and finds solitude when she dons a papier-mâché bunny head. Nina survives the car accident, but her parents do not. She goes to live with her vexed aunt Irma who turns out to be a derelict caretaker and does not hide it. Irma’s friend, June (Tabitha Bastien), has a tragic story of her own and is motherly to Nina. The audience is introduced to Ash (Earl Gray) who is a drug supplier and traffics women. That night, Irma, June, Ash and three others, consume hallucinogenic drugs and Ash walks upstairs and takes a polaroid of a sleeping Nina. All we are told in the beginning is that Ash is a bad man and you do not want to cross him. His plot line leads us to an even more sinister character named simply, ‘The Belgian’. These two characters turn out to be the most sinister. The two actors are compelling on screen. Ash is a more soft-spoken boss while The Belgian is boisterous. We are also introduced to Slough Town, a small town in the state of Washington where the story takes place. A Twin Peaks vibe with characters to match. The town has 8 goofy corners and a police department made of 4 officers. Paul (Morgen Johnson) is a rookie officer with 2 ½ months on the job while the Chief (Andrew Tribolini) is close to retirement. With their own quirks, they are solid officers who diligently perform their duties. The Chief describes the town of Slough to Paul as cursed, as it attracts undesirables, white trash, drug dealers, prostitution, smuggling, whack jobs and good people, but if there was ever to be an enema, the hose would go straight into this town. This pretty much sums up all the supporting cast that the audience will encounter in this movie.
After several murders occur at the asylum we learn about Milton (Jonathan Holbrook) who is an escaped mental patient with an intellectual ability of a 10 -year-old. He is described as a menacing 7-foot 350-pound killer. While murders continue to grow, and the police are on their search, Milton stumbles across Nina in the forest. He dons her rabbit mask and saves her from being killed by satanic worshiping teenagers. This begins their unique friendship and Nina takes him home. Nina sees Milton as her protector, but will he turn on her? Milton may be a vicious mullet swinging killer, but with the rabbit papier-mâché mask, watching him bond with Nina is heartwarming.
Although I found the movie uneven at times, I think it is worth watching. There are a number of characters that have a story and we learn about them while others are just collateral. I was fond of Paul and the Chief and the mentoring involved. I also felt empathy for the pairing of Martin and Nina while appreciating the kindness and tragedy bestowed upon June. The tone of this movie is seen through dingy filters at times and corresponds with the lack of dialog between Milton and Nina as they appear to spend more time in their heads. Brighter colors were used when entering the demented world of The Belgian and the townfolks. The music is relaxing, haunting and sometimes jarring which enhances with the visuals. The director does a good job balancing all this out as he shifts through emotional, idiosyncratic and murderous scenes. While there are some scenes that ran on longer than I thought they needed to, there is no denying it is a unique ride worth the investment of your time.
Beloved Beast, written and directed by Jonathan Holbrook is set to be released by Indian Pictures is set to release to limited theaters, digital and DVD on October 11, 2019.