VOD film review: Beast Beast
Indie teen drama7
Performances / message7.5
Matthew Turner | On 02, May 2021
Director: Danny Madden
Cast: Shirley Chen, Will Madden, Jose Angeles, Courtney Dietz, Daniel Rashid, Anissa Matlock
Where to watch Beast Beast online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
Written and directed by Danny Madden, this indie coming-of-age drama is executive produced by Alec Baldwin and received its premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It’s based on a 2018 short film by Madden named Krista, after one of the lead characters.
Set in a small town in Wakes County, in the southern United States, the film tracks three young adults – two teenagers and a still-living-at-home 24 year old – who are all obsessed with social media. Krista (Shirley Chen) is a theatre student who keeps making audition tapes of herself and sketch videos with her best friend, but is struggling to connect with real emotion on stage.
Elsewhere, Nito (Jose Angeles) is a newcomer with an unhappy home life, whose amazing skater videos quickly earn him the admiration of other students, including a group of stoners whose main idea of a good time is breaking and entering. And high school graduate Adam (Will Madden, the director’s brother) spends all his time demonstrating firearms on his YouTube gun vlog, while being nagged by his father (Chip Carriere) that maybe it’s time he started thinking about a real job.
The film throbs with its own distinctive rhythm, courtesy of Madden’s impressively percussive sound design that makes strong use of everything from a stick being dragged along a fence to the shrieks and screams of Krista’s theatre class and the shots being fired from Adam’s guns. Later, Krista and Nito start dating and a romantic scene is scored with urgent drumming, as Nito helps her rehearse for her school play.
For the most part, the film feels authentically naturalistic, achieving an almost documentary-like feel in some scenes. However, as you can predict from very early on, the film eventually takes a turn into tragedy. In addition to a strong message about gun violence (and maybe parental neglect), the film has a number of different things to say about social media. For Nito it’s a good thing, as his videos bring him popularity, although it’s telling that he’s also the one least interested in his online presence. For Krista, it’s ambivalent, as there’s the suggestion that her video activities aren’t actually helping her become a better actress, while for Adam, it’s a full-on horror story, as his desperate search for popularity (likes, video views) ironically only increases his isolation.
The film is beautifully shot and lit, courtesy of Kristian Zuniga’s striking cinematography – there’s a particularly impressive image of Adam’s eyes reflecting the glow of his video screen. There are also a number of great scenes and moments, including a sweet sequence where Nito and Krista go night swimming (by sneaking into someone’s pool, echoing the breaking and entering) and a chilling headline towards the end that powerfully encapsulates Madden’s central message.