A tricky proposition, Danny Madden’s Gen-Z teen movie Beast Beast is something of a challenge to write about, in that the last third of the film is pre-occupied with a single issue, which is gun violence. That subject couldn’t be more timely in terms of tackling the current epidemic of shootings in the US, but the film’s structure makes it impossible to discuss without creating some awareness in the viewer about what’s coming down the pike towards the end. Like Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, Beast Beast can only surprise once in the telling, and like the characters it portrays, options are reduced as the narrative progresses to a bitter end.
Krista (Shirley Chen) is part of her local high-school drama programme; a fate far worse than death, one might imagine. But Krista develops feelings for Nito (Jose Angeles), a skateboarder of some talent and charisma, and the two of them become something of an item. Nito, however, runs with a rougher crowd, and a spot of breaking and entering leads him into conflict with Adam (Will Madden), a rifle-obsessed loner who dreams of internet fame via a YouTube channel. When social–media viewers deride his amateurish content, Adam sees Nito’s arrival as an opportunity to defend his property, but also to expand his own fame.
Beast Beast doesn’t give a balanced portrayal of the issues connected to guns; it’s a straight-up polemic, with a few jarringly unconvincing notes. Adam’s sudden endorsement by the law-enforcement community seems like a stretch, even in such politically loaded times, and incredulity about this twist hobbles late narrative developments. That said, Beast Beast has a lot to recommend it as a Kids-style indie, with fluent performances from Chen and Angeles, under the guiding hands of producer Jim Cummings (Thunder Road) and exec-producer Alec Baldwin.
It’ll take more than a movie to change minds about guns; the news-footage of long lines of Americans queuing at gun-shops at the start of the pandemic suggested how possession of loaded weapons is linked to the survivalist psyche. But there’s been a lot of talk about gun control, and not much action, and fatigue has set it; it’s a shame when the observance of teenage life ends here and the moralising takes over. Like another recently reviewed youth film, Hit Record, there’s also an important message about the dangers of social media, and the point is well made that views and likes should not be anything other than generating hits for someone else’s platform. Beast Beast has too much work to do to justify its shocking conclusion; the gear-changes are just too jarring, even if the broad strokes mean that the film would serve as a good basis for a classroom discussion. But despite some flaws, this is a promising work from Madden, and particularly from a young cast who convince with their natural, unaffected performances.
Blue Finch Film Releasing presents Beast Beast on Digital Download 30 April