Antoine and Olga (played by Denis Ménochet and Marina Foïs) feel at home in the rural Galician village where they live and farm. Some of their neighbors, however, see things differently. They view Antoine and Olga as outsiders, an educated French couple who do not deserve to be here. Two brothers, Xan and Lorenzo (Luis Zahera and Diego Anido), especially resent Antoine and Olga for voting against the construction of a wind turbine that would give Xan and Lorenzo money. Such antagonism builds increasingly throughout this riveting rural thriller by Spanish director Rodrigo Sorogoyen.
The Beasts is Sorogoyen’s Cannes debut; he previously received an Oscar nomination for his short film Madre and the San Sebastian Jury Prize for May God Save Us in 2016. The Beasts has already received acclaim at Cannes, and was awarded the Audience Award for Best European Film at San Sebastian. Boasting powerful performances and some impressive long takes, The Beasts continues to cement Sorogoyen’s place as one of the preeminent contemporary Spanish directors.
From the opening scene, which features slow-motion footage of farmhands tackling a wild horse at Galicia’s Rapa das Bestas fiesta, there is an intensity and brutality to The Beasts. However, this echo of violence is hidden just below the surface. Every time Antoine goes for a drink at the local bar, there is a constant aura of aggression between him and the two brothers, Xan and Lorenzo, like a flood about to burst. Xan antagonizes Antoine at every opportunity, slowly but surely escalating the conflict to a point of no return.
Amidst the gorgeous, lush landscape of Galicia, Sorogoyen injects a pulsing, unnerving score that reflects the building hostility between the two households. The surrounding farmland may be Antoine and Olga’s joy, but the isolation is also a constant threat.
The Beasts features powerful performances from all the major players, and Sorogoyen allows these performances to come alive through his repeated use of long takes. There are multiple scenes that last for over 10 minutes without cuts—they never feel showy or overdone, but instead let the momentum build naturally, highlighting the incredible acting and the tense dialogue.
With the backdrop of rural Galicia, The Beasts is definitively Spanish, but it touches on familiar themes. The underlying tension between outside and local, educated and uneducated, urban and rural, is the core of all great rural thrillers, harkening back to the films of Boorman and Peckinpah. However, Sorogoyen goes beyond this, layering on the tension and rooting it in our contemporary moment.
In addition to the urban vs. rural tension, there are hints of nationalism and xenophobia (local Galician farmers vs. the French newcomers living in Spain), as well as deep issues of class. For the farmers Xan and Lorenzo, who have been working the land for decades, the development of a wind turbine represents a way out of a life of misery and hardship. For Antoine and Olga, the wealthy foreigners who have been “playing at farming for two years”, as Xan puts it, the unspoiled land is worth far more than the money.
This theme of gentrification, specifically the selling of traditional land for environmental projects, feels profoundly relevant. In rural communities across Spain, as well as the Netherlands and other countries across the globe, traditional farming methods are running up against economic development and new environmental policy. This is also a major theme in Alcarràs, another 2022 Spanish film currently running the festival circuit.
However, in The Beasts, thematic elements ultimately fade to the background in favor of the film’s true purpose—to deliver a tense, boiling pot of a movie. With powerful performances, taut dialogue, and a surprising narrative shift in the third act, The Beasts is a remarkable film and one of the most gripping rural thrillers in recent memory.
The Beasts (Galician: As bestas)— Spain/France. Dialog in Spanish, French, Galician. Directed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen. Running time 2hr 17 min. First released May 26, 2022 (Cannes). Starring Denis Ménochet, Marina Foïs, Luis Zahera, Diego Anido, Marie Colomb.
This article is part of Cinema Escapist’s dedicated coverage of the 2022 Vancouver International Film Festival.