Fragments Festival: “To Kill The Beast” Review
To Kill The Beast is the first feature film of Agustina San Martin, whose short films have garnered prestigious awards at film festivals including Cannes with Monster God (2019). The Argentinian director has also worked as a screenwriter, colourist, and cinematographer. Between 2020 and 2022, she was mentored by Lin-Manuel Miranda, actor, singer, songwriter and director, who recently wrote the songs for the award-winning Encanto (2021). Her experience across multiple roles in film is clearly demonstrated in the affective textuality of her feature film debut.
The film’s protagonist, Emilia (Tamara Rocca), visits her aunt Ines’ (Ana Brun) hostel which lies on the border of Brazil and Argentina, ostensibly to look for her brother, Matao, who was sent away from the family home because of increasingly disruptive and violent behaviour. The hostel is almost empty, with the exception of Helena (Sabrina Grinchspun) with whom Emilia develops an intimate relationship with. The hostel, where most of the film is set, is dilapidated, all electronic and electrical equipment keeps breaking and the lace curtains, which create a flimsy boundary between inside and outside, show signs of wear and tear, connoting pastness. This interior female space is juxtaposed with the exterior male space of violence and brutality as symbolised by the “beast” which according to local folklore is actually a shapeshifting man who can take the form of multiple beasts, and who desires to do the “worst” to his female victims.
To Kill The Beast is a reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood, with a feminist twist: a hut in the forest becomes a hostel, the grandma becomes the Aunt, and the liberation of female desire is homosexual rather than heterosexual. Men in the film are either absent, ineffectual (the Priest, Mateo’s friend) or dangerous. The hostel provides a female space of companionship and love with its own rules and regulations outside of patriarchy. This is echoed in the camera work: static framing, canted angles and long shots articulate a different temporality, one configured on the female body and marked through its duration whereby time unfolds slowly. This is a gothic femininity marked by interiority and affect, while the mist outside, wherein the strange beast lurks, obscures vision, the natural light inside creates vision as embodiment within the female gaze.
Unlike most versions of Little Red Riding Hood, the beast remains outside and is denied entrance into the female space to assault the virginal Red Riding Hood. Here female desire replaces and displaces male desire. This is clearly seen in the final scene wherein the echoes of Emilia and Helena’s lovemaking reverberate in the forest outside as the camera moves from inside to outside. Emilia appears enveloped in mist as the wild bull comes towards her and the final words of the film are hers: “I’m not afraid of you”. By so doing, Emilia liberates herself from the narrative of patriarchy and its gendered binaries through which men’s assumed bestial desires need to be navigated appropriately by their object, the girl. Here girlhood comes of age without the constraining dictates of bourgeois morality which Emilia refuses to conform to.
To Kill The Beast, while not an outright horror film, draws on the codes and conventions of the gothic to weave a feminist fable of female identity and desires. At times, the long shots are almost too long, but they need to be understood as an embodiment of effect wherein the body is a place of becoming rather than being. In its queerness, To Kill The Beast rewrites the script of normative heterosexuality and allows its heroine to wander off the path for good.
Written by Dr Colette Balmain
*The film will be screened at the Genesis Cinema on Sept 30th (LONDON) – FRAGMENTS FESTIVAL.