VOD film review: Beats
That rave scene9
Luke Channell | On 17, Sep 2019Reading time: 2 mins
Director: Brian Welsh
Cast: Cristian Ortega, Lorn Macdonald, Brian Ferguson
Watch Beats online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
“It’s bouncing, man!” exclaims Johnno (Cristian Ortega) while joyously dancing round his bedroom to the latest dance track his best mate, Spanner (Lorn Macdonald), has discovered. Beats brilliantly captures this transcendent thrill of music and provides a lively, authentic and deceptively moving look back at the rave era of the early 1990s.
Set in Scotland in 1994 and filmed in gorgeous black and white, Beats follows the reckless, live-wire Spanner and his more reserved buddy, who have sparked up an unlikely friendship through their shared passion for electronic dance music. The duo dream of attending an illegal rave together, but both teenagers face an uncertain transition into adulthood. Johnno’s family are moving to a more affluent suburban area, while Spanner is facing increasing pressure at home from his thuggish older brother. When plans for an illegal warehouse rave hit the airwaves, the pair decide to risk it all to attend, before life takes them in different directions.
Director Brian Welsh brings the 1990s to vivid life through careful period detail and a subtle undercurrent of political commentary. Welsh intersperses televised snippets of Tony Blair’s speeches and protests against the impending Criminal Justice and Public Order Act – which would effectively bring an end to the rave scene. For many working-class teenagers, listening to dance music became a way to protest against the government and the film adroitly illustrates its rebellious allure.
Beats does suffer from a slightly unsatisfying first act that doesn’t develop the relationship between the boys organically enough. But two endearing, exuberant performances from Macdonald and Ortega (who are both making their feature film debuts) help make their connection feel genuine. Both navigate a range of emotions with real conviction and share an honest, infectious chemistry that makes the film’s ecstatic centrepiece, and the pair’s inevitable parting, even more bittersweet.
When the boys finally make it to the rave, Welsh treats us to a simply euphoric dancefloor scene, which transforms into an extraordinary kaleidoscope of psychedelic visuals. Beats breaks from its monochrome aesthetic here with an injection of colour that perfectly portrays the feeling of freedom that rave culture represented. Scored to pulsating, exultant tracks, it’s a truly memorable sequence that’s bursting with verve and emotion.
In Beats, Welsh has crafted a surprisingly poignant, brilliantly acted coming-of-ager. It not only acts as an ode to rave culture but also to young male friendships and the joys of youth.
Beats is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of an £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription.