British director Michael Pearce’s debut Beast was one of the indie success stories of this year’s Toronto film festival, selling to 30WEST for a seven-figure sum. Starring newcomer Jessie Buckley in her first film lead, Beast is a psychological thriller in which a young girl with a tortured past meets a dangerous stranger (Johnny Flynn) who may or may not be a killer.

Dropping by the Deadline studio, Pearce revealed that, although the story is entirely fictional, certain aspects of the film are very personal to him. “It’s set on Jersey, where I grew up,” he said, “and it’s kind of based on my childhood memories of growing up on the island, because I had a really safe and idyllic childhood, and [Jersey] has a really great scenic landscape. But, like a lot of places, it’s got its fair share of dark stories as well. There was one particular story [about a man] called The Beast Of Jersey who was a serial sex stalker who terrorized the island through the ’60s. Even when I grew up in the 80s it was still part of folklore, and I was so struck by that as a child. So I started to think about using Jersey as a sort of mythical backdrop to a thriller.”

Unusually for a genre movie of this kind, the lead character is a woman, which was Pearce’s goal from the outset. “I’ve always been struck by how many anti-heroes we have in cinema,” he said, “like Travis Bickle or Michael Corleone. But I can’t think of many anti-heroines, and the ones that we do have come from literature, whether it’s Gone Girl, Cathy from Wuthering Heights, Carrie or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I really struggled to think of a genuine film anti-heroine, and I thought, ‘That’s really weird.’ Culturally, why do we hem in female characters to be the love interest, or to be wicked, or to be saintly? It seemed like a much more narrow box for female characters. So that thought was also in the back on my mind—to make a character that’s got that complexity, that is challenging but you empathize with.” Buckley summed things up nicely, noting, “We all have dark shadows in our self that come out every now and then.” 

Find out more by watching the video above.

Deadline Studio at TIFF 2017 is presented by Calii LoveWatford GroupPhilosophy Canada, and Equinox. Special thanks to Dan Gunam at Calii Love for location and production assistance; and Ontario Camera for equipment assistance. Video producer: Meaghan Gable; lighting and camera: Neil Hansen; design: Dialla Kawar; sound recording: Ida Jokinen.