London Film Festival 2019: Rare Beasts

Rating: ★★

Directorial debuts are tough, and it gives people a chance to establish their personal style. Sadly for me, Billie Piper’s first film had a style that didn’t sit well with me at all. She was heavily involved in the project; directing, writing and starring in it, but her unique first film is perhaps a bit too quirky.

Rare Beasts follows Mandy, a career-driven single mother (Billie Piper) and her turbulent relationship with Pete (Leo Bill). Possibly the most frustrating thing about this film as it’s unclear why the two of them even ended up together at all.

It’s not uncommon for people to choose poorly when they’re dating, and end up in a relationship that doesn’t work, but Rare Beasts offers no reason for the two to even end up together in the first place. Mandy’s a single mother, she’s wild, she wears bold clothing, and Pete is a traditionalist who is, frankly, a misogynist with anger issues.

Interestingly, the film’s synopsis describes Pete as ‘charming’, and I’m unable to see that quality in him, nor is it ever shown from Mandy’s point of view. She never once looks at Pete lovingly, or seems charmed by him.

The lack of context or any indication as to what drove them to be together is a problem for me. Even if we saw one tiny nice moment between them it would make sense, but throughout the film they’re consistently awful to each other with no redeeming features.

Combined with a narrative that is all over the place and dialogue that feels very unnatural, it comes across as jarring most of the time. I have no issue with unconventional film styles, but I found it very hard to follow what was going on at various points.

It seems Rare Beasts is confused about what tone its actually going for, switching between whimsical musical style scenes (minus the music or singing) and gritty realism in a matter of seconds.

I appreciated the efforts to raise awareness of social issues such as domestic abuse, gender inequalities and the struggles of bringing up a child as a single parent, but these messages are squashed by a visual style that is rather overwhelming.

There is also a sub-plot involving Mandy’s parents (Kerry Fox and David Thewlis), who have separated but appear to have a complicated relationship. This is never fully explained either so it’s hard to connect with them, especially when Mandy’s mother falls ill.

This attempt to tug at our heartstrings falls flat, which is disappointing as it had the potential to bring some real, raw emotion to Rare Beasts. Sadly it’s as disjoined and confusing as Mandy and Pete’s relationship.

It’s clear those involved in the film gave it their all, and I can’t fault the quality of the actors even though some of the lines didn’t work and felt too far removed from natural conversation to be taken seriously. At least they tried.

Billie Piper has talent, there’s no doubt about it, but she hasn’t quite made it work in this very daring debut behind the camera. If Rare Beasts was attempting to be relatable and resonate with audiences, it failed to do that with me.

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