The Beast of X Moor (2014)

A pair of documentary filmmakers team up with an unhinged guide to hunt a mythical black panther in the remote New Devon moor, only to accidentally stumble – or perhaps not so accidentally – into a serial killer’s dump site. A great idea with a not-so-great execution. Most of these problems are technical, though a lot of the lore and history in the film refuses to acknowledge its origins.

The Beast is a proud member of a time-honored tradition that attributes the horrific crimes of human beings to fantastical monsters. Even before the term “serial killer” entered the popular consciousness, crimes committed by men and women who would eventually fall under that category were largely considered to have been committed by werewolves. Among that category we have Gilles Garnier, a hermit convicted of killing four children and accused of about fifty more, who was executed in 1573, and Peter Stumpp, a Roman farmer who was accused of killing eighteen people and executed in 1589. There was also the man known only as the Demon Tailor, or the Werewolf of Chalons, who murdered and cannibalized an unknown number of children. All records of his life were destroyed after the execution. None of these people were actually werewolves in the traditional sense; they were human beings who committed, or were accused of committing, horrible crimes – mostly against children. Gilles Garnier claimed to have made a deal with the devil that allowed him to transform into a great wolf, and Peter Stumpp confessed to something similar after being tortured. Allegedly, the Werewolf of Chalons never considered himself to be a wolf of any sort, but the moniker was attached to his legend due to the brutality of his crimes, of which he was supposedly unrepentant.

Now, a lot is unknown about these crimes. It’s entirely possible that some of the men accused were innocent and picked as convenient scapegoats due to the political climate of the time, something that has been theorized extensively about Peter Stumpp’s case. He was a wealthy Protestant in a country where Protestants were not well liked. On the other side of things, Gilles Garnier was a poor man, mentally ill, and disliked by his community. It’s possible that these men were serial killers in a time before people had come up with a word for that, but it’s also possible that they were simply caught up in a situation over which they had no control, and condemned to death by communities that had no love for them. This far in the past, it’s nearly impossible to tell. We do know that the confession that condemned Peter Stumpp was extracted under torture, and also condemned the rest of his family to execution along with him. We know next to nothing about the Werewolf of Chalons. Even his name has been lost to history.

What we do know, however, is that people have been attributing the bloody acts of men to those of mythical monsters before we even had the words to describe a serial killer. In that sense, The Beast of X Moor is only playing on an age-old tradition. However, the film doesn’t acknowledge that in any way. There’s a brief conversation about cryptozoology, and how it’s easier to go hunting for Bigfoot than to understand that the monster hiding in the dark “drives a Land Rover.” Which is a good point, but doesn’t acknowledge that this conundrum outdates cryptozoology by a long margin. The Beast of X Moor doesn’t have that much to say about cryptozoology either, only to laugh at it. This could have been an opportunity to look at why certain people are so invested in searching for myths to explain horrific events, but it devolves into your traditional slasher without pausing to examine the origins of these ideas, or even explore them in any meaningful way.

When a film brings up a concept with such a rich and nuanced history as this, the least it can do is, you know, talk about it.

The Beast of X Moor does not.

The scenery is beautiful and gloomy in the daytime shots, but unfortunately the majority of the film takes place at night, with little to no lighting. One of the unfortunate facts of video cameras is that, in certain situations, they’re actually weaker than the human eye. The human eye can adjust quite well to almost complete darkness under the right circumstances. A camera?

Yeah, not so much.

There were several sequences in The Beast of X Moor that were so dark that I literally couldn’t see what was happening. I fully believe that the actors and crew could see, but that doesn’t mean that the camera did.

To put it simply, this movie had issues. The ending was the worst kind of deus ex machina, I really don’t know why one character was introduced or what purpose she served in the narrative, and the characters weren’t as developed as I would have liked. That’s not even getting into the frankly strange costume choices that were made because damn, it’s not a real horror movie unless we see a woman running around half naked! The Beast of X Moor has an excellent premise and moody sort of creepiness that can’t quite make up for its less than stellar execution. See it, but don’t come in with high expectations.

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