Film Reviews

Some Beasts Cameron Bruce Nelson

Rating - 8/10
Regional and spiritual authenticity of the early films of Terrence Malick and David Gordon Green guide Cameron Bruce Nelson's Some Beasts, a tender meditation on provincial Appalachian life near Floyd, Virginia.  Its tone, however, feels distinctly separated from the wave of recent successors like David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints, 2013) and Jeff Nichols (Mud, 2012); writer-director Nelson avoids elements of criminality and revenge to focus most honestly on a couple weathering physical separation.
Some Beasts' slow seasonal turns in seemingly quotidian moments are purposefully elevated by a complex examination of life's junctures and resulting indecision.  When attentive to the trials and tribulations of introspective farmhand-caretaker Sal (Frank Mosley), Johnny Marshall's immaculate sound design allows the soft resonance of wind chimes to manifest diegetically and mesh with the delicate ambient-chamber score provided by Stars of the Lid and Curtis Heath.
Harmoniously, Nelson tempers political dialogue and maudlin melodrama in exploration of domestic issues and native values in the roots of independence and private endurance.  In one instance, Sal builds a coffin and prepares a burial site for the recently departed. Later, he chooses to invite an inquisitive orphan, Tre (Andre Shannon), into his life rather than navigate legal channels. Personal responsibility is conveyed simply through one man, who, in turn, instills the surrounding environment with empathetic spirit.
But within its singular warmth, winter inevitably intervenes and an estranged husband reemerges in the life of Sal's Texas girlfriend Rene (Heather Kafka).  Progressively, personal hardships intermingle with communal ones, reverberating in the relationships Sal has formed with the young neighboring couple Allison and Gary (Allison Bowden and Gary Hello), as well as biker-raconteur friend Matt (Matt Sebas), and his aging, mystic employer A'Court (A'Court Bason, to whom the film is dedicated).
In the title that feels inexorably linked to the writings of Walt Whitman (but actually belongs to a poem by Pablo Neruda), there are no clear-cut villains, only existential dilemma and the quiet manifestation of grief.  Sal and Rene's blissful intimacy gives way to yearning. This emotional shift provokes a physical shuffling of events in eloquent non-linear montage to convey a tenuous mental state.  Faithfully shaped by Mosley's perfectly pitched performance, Sal's aspirations of continuing a family life in the rural milieu slowly slip through time.
As fate would intervene, the exit of one life sparks the poised entrance of another in the living mirror of Anna (Lindsay Burdge), A'Court's judicious niece.  In her wake, Some Beasts allows a glimpse of a future Sal once imagined with Rene, akin to a modest version of John Crowley's Brooklyn (2015).  Once inhibited, the fertile romantic prospects of marriage and cultivation of the five-acre lot with energy-efficient house are again planted.  Yet, even in this fortuitous turn, Sal can't quite manage to embrace this new reality, as he perceives it as a physical and spiritual betrayal.  When Anna and Tre demand more of his active engagement, tensions of the past psychologically alter the climate of the present.
In characterizing the temperament of Some Beasts, the director evokes the prescience of Rainer Maria Rilke and the inexpressible qualities in abiding art.  The quote from Letters to a Young Poet (1929) accurately reflects the film's tone and theme, which harness poetic truths about diverging/converging paths (perhaps indicative of another famous poem by Frost), the role of family, and autonomy.  The final scenes so accurately reinforce this vision; the subtle symbol of a mended chair gradually comes to bear the weight and meaning of Sal's experiences much like the rings of an indigenous tree.