Celebrating Noirvember With ‘The Beast Must Die’
by Rachel Bellwoar
It’s November, and if you’re a classic movie fan that can only mean one thing: Noirvember has arrived! While one might question the wisdom of following up a month of horror with a month of cynical, crime films, that’s the way the calendar falls. And thanks to Flicker Alley, there’s a new, Argentine noir to add to your watchlist.
Called The Beast Must Die, it’s a title that might sound familiar if you watched the British miniseries AMC recently aired over the summer. Both the film and the show are adaptations of Cecil Day-Lewis’ book of the same name (and no, it’s not a coincidence – Cecil is Daniel Day-Lewis’ father). Day-Lewis wrote The Beast Must Die under a pen name, though, and according to TCM host Eddie Muller in his booklet essay, it was a close call with Cecil’s son, Sean, that inspired the novel.
Both the miniseries and Román Viñoly Barreto’s film deviate from the source material. In the miniseries, the main character, Felix, is gender flipped. In the film, Barreto (who co-wrote the screenplay with the film’s star, Narciso Ibáñez Menta) reworks the structure so that the film begins with the beast’s murder, before backtracking to show what happened to make Felix want to seek revenge.
One thing this does, as author and film historian Guido Segal mentions in his commentary, is allow the film to develop a strong ensemble cast. Later, when the film goes into flashback mode using a diary device, Menta’s Felix is the main character (and it’s really not until the flashback that you realize how good Menta’s performance is – when he first appears in the film he comes across as callous and aloof, but then you see what a change that is from how he was before), but the film takes its time introducing Felix so that the other characters get juicy moments, too. Nothing beats the one-two punch of Linda (Laura Hidalgo) being told to call a doctor – there’s a character dying of poison in the next room – and she calls someone else instead. And then, while she’s on the phone, she sees her nephew (Humberto Balado) sneaking away with a bottle (because that’s not suspicious when you’re dealing with poisoning) and she doesn’t say a word. Who are these people and what’s gonna happen next???
That’s the other nice thing about this movie. There are some great female parts. Meanwhile, it’s really all about revenge for Felix, which means he’s much colder than Frances (Cush Jumbo) was in the miniseries. The editing by José Serra for the sequence where Felix finds out the worst is surreal, while the decision to shoot some of the exteriors indoors gives those scenes a dreamlike quality (think Black Narcissus), which adds to the sense that Felix is living his worst nightmare. Even with the diary, while it’s pointed out that writing down your plans is a bad idea, there’s a poignancy to the diary that justifies its inclusion.
Bonus feature-wise, Muller’s introduction is kind of hidden (or at least it’s not on the main menu so it would be easy to start the film without it), but it’s a great introduction that can be safely watched beforehand. Segal’s commentary goes into Barreto’s use of doubles and how he and cinematographer Alberto Etchebehere were able to use depth of field and high and low angles to wonderful effect. There’s also a conversation with Argentine film archivist and historian Fernando Martín Peña and Barreto’s son, Daniel Viñoly, where Daniel shares some memories of being on set while his dad was filming and reveals that his dad’s hands are the ones used for the diary entries (the entries are also written in his father’s handwriting). If there’s anything to nitpick, there’s one line Inspector Blount (Jesús Pampín) says in the movie that isn’t subtitled, but otherwise it’s a beautiful package.
The Beast Must Die is available on Blu-ray and DVD Dual-Format edition from Flicker Alley (and hopefully it will lead to Barreto’s film, The Black Vampire, getting released next, as Muller teases might be a possibility).