Danny Madden’s fantastic feature debut Beast Beast is a bold exploration into the world of young adults in a relentlessly unforgiving world. Ramping up its perfectly built tension with a final act that hits you like a train, becoming an unmissable and urgent film for audiences.
In a quiet suburban town, charismatic theatre lover Krista (Shirley Chen) finds herself increasingly drawn to quiet new kid Nito (Jose Angeles), a talented skateboarder whose troubled home life pushes him towards a group of fellow social misfits. Meanwhile, Krista’s recently graduated neighbour Adam (Will Madden) attempts to turn his love of guns into viral internet stardom, only to become frustrated by his lack of video views. When a violent event with tragic results shatters their young worlds, the consequences leave simmering feelings of anger, trauma and guilt.
Beast Beast carries on throughout its opening half as quiet and almost carefree as it can be considering the environment. Without the continually increasing tension, you would be mistaken for thinking this was a standard coming of age piece. But that tension remains, and while it may be easy to assume what exactly brings all three firmly together at the end of the film, it is the story of how we get there that needs to be applauded.
The script is one of the keys to the success of Madden’s film. Showing us people how they really would be, the socially awkward college graduate who wants to be a success and thinks YouTube is that key. Having Adam fake his way through the videos and be full of unsureness and have that insecurity compounded by a family who thinks he is wasting his time allows us to realistically see someone become frustrated and angry. Equally, with Krista, we have a popular high school girl who encounters a horrible moment at a party that begins to feed a sense of darkness within her. Other than a blossoming relationship with Nito, she isn’t as happy as she is making out. This comes to a head after the tragic incident where she doesn’t have a reason to keep up the act. With Nito’s arc, he is just trying to assimilate with all of these new people and, in his mind, has struck lucky with finding Kirsta and her friends.
Our three young leads are exceptional here as they carry all of the confusion and emotion of their characters that really brings home an authenticity that little moments mean all the more with their performances. At every point, they perfectly encapsulate the full of doubt that a teenager and young adult would have. They are perfectly cast for these roles, with Chen being the heart of the film that is the epitome of positivity. Yet, as the number of events gets to her, we see the brightness begin to fade from her eyes and anger and pain forms needing a desperate release. Equally, Maddon and Angeles are just as good as characters who have to bring their own shades of grey. No matter what, thanks to these performances, no one comes out of this film as clean as they did when they came into it.
If you come out of Beast Beast thinking it is purely an anti-gun movie, then quite frankly, you appear to have missed the point. This is firmly about the social media era of society, to which young people, be it high school kids, college kids or recent graduates, are all able to be wrapped up. It just so happens for story purposes Adam is a gun enthusiast. We further see how careful Adam is with his equipment as he gets someone to help him out with filming. Adam is assured and cautious, making sure that if he shoots, it is for a target he has made, whereas the person with him shoots wildly, and Adam immediately takes the gun from and chastises him for his lack of care.
Giving the audience this small moment allows us to see what type of person Adam is, he enjoys guns, yes, but his videos are about gun care and respect. That is why his videos do so poorly for views; there is no real hook to them. He isn’t going to get viral by being nice with his gun advice, and so he deviates his style to be in the same vein as those countless videos we see every day on YouTube or social media. It gets him the views he craves, but this joy is only a fleeting thing. As soon as he has the excitement of these increasing views, inevitably comes the negative comments that rightfully upset him. He is in a no-win situation here, and there is nothing he can do until fate, whether rightfully or wrongly, steps in.
Even here, we see his change in character as his fame grows, and we realise how desperate he is for fame, for some form of success in his exchange with Krista. He fears disappearing into nothing and has become addicted to this new world. If there is ever a tale that should be used to highlight the complexities and risks of social media, then this is the one to watch.
Social media’s influence on the young is even entwined in our blossoming young relationship with Krista and Nito. No one knows much about this newcomer to the school until someone finds his social media, showcasing all of the stunts he does. Krista sees his creative side and is engaged with him before she has properly met him. Luckily for her, Nito is a good guy, but his videos are not his whole story. While he seems charismatic and someone to gravitate towards in the eyes of the internet, he lives an unhappy family life. He almost immediately has a run-in with the wrong crowd that will surely lead this good guy astray thanks to the knowledge of his videos. Of course, no one (well, mostly no one) ever shows the bad aspects of their life to the world. So by showing us both the private and the “public” side of these characters lives, we get a fuller scope of them and perhaps a better scope of modern young people than we have seen in quite a while.
With Madden’s astute direction, we have an excellently paced piece, when the narrative needs to go up the gears to bring the tension and emotion to the fore, but he also knows when to pull it back and let the camera and actors settle with their characters. When the film slows down, it is for a reason, there is no flab to his picture, and by knowing how to pace his audience, he can play with our emotions as he tightens and loosens tension. This enables us to second guess ourselves in those final scenes; we see how affected these characters have become, so when they take specific actions, it allows us to be surprised by it and not in a rug pulled from under our feet way. In a far more clever way, by writing the screenplay, Madden knows his film inside out, and he has his audience at the end of a string throughout. Outstanding work from the young director.
The only negative to Beast Beast is that the final act needed to be longer to see more of the characters downward spirals; instead, it is a tad rushed, but it doesn’t hold the film up at all, as it still flows very well. Kristian Zuniga’s camera is almost always close in on the film’s subjects. This intimate and, at times, depending on the circumstances suffocating feeling throughout the film, make sure we rarely get the chance to lean back. Weaving in and around with his handheld camera, Zuniga can find some unique angles, with shots such as when Will has finished recording and uploading his video to his computer. The camera stays on the shot where his camera is still on. We are almost drawn to watching Will through that camera instead of the actual one.
Overall. Beast Beast feels as if it needs to be an important watch for audiences this year, and it is undoubtedly one that has a wide net of people to look out for in the future – an assured and impactful debut.
Blue Finch Film Releasing presents Beast Beast on Digital Download 30 April.
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