Writer and Director: Danny Madden
America’s gun control and shoot first policy comes under scrutiny in Danny Madden’s 2020 film, coming to digital download, that examines the inevitable consequences when two very different worlds collide. Framed as an elegiac teen movie along the lines of American Honey and Ladybird, Beast Beast sensitively explores the innocence of first love, teenage aspiration and the pressures of social media as a solitary young gun owner finds a way to make his mark.
Skateboarder and YouTube star Nito joins a new school and is soon attracted to actress Krista who has the locker above his. After some tentative meetings at parties the pair becomes closer just as Nito is swept up in a new group of friends who use his climbing skills for nefarious purposes. Meanwhile, 24-year-old gun promoter Adam spends his days making videos in his bedroom showcasing his extensive armoury until their lives cross in the most alarming circumstances.
Madden’s coming-of-age film is beautifully and energetically managed. As a storyteller, Madden develops investment in each of his three leads, creating a credible sense of their lives with tinges of loneliness that draw their strands together. The tender love story that grows between Nito and Krista is slow and sweet while the ambiguity of motivation and the hesitancy Madden creates within each individual’s sense of purpose give the characters depth and meaning.
These softer tones contrast with moments of fierce energy where swirling camerawork, quick cuts and a sense of confusion are employed to draw direct parallels between the hubbub of a teen party, the anxiety of a police raid and, ultimately, the sudden violence that erupts within Adam’s vlog posts. That Madden takes his time to establish intimacy with the characters and then disrupts it in rapid fire bursts is both interesting and skilful, and while there is a weighty predictability to the film, Madden does subvert our expectations in the final sequence.
Shirley Chen finds an inner strength as Krista that belies the sweet and likeable surface that she projects to the world. Bear with Madden on the inclusion of so many acting warm-up exercises as part of Krista’s drama class because they are essential to the plot and demonstrate a young woman finding her place. Chen displays those changes of pace really well, offering a carefree and more troubled version of her character.
Jose Angeles as Nito is a quiet presence, a talented but shy skateboarder and drummer whose motherless homelife leaves him largely to fend for himself. That he becomes equally swept up with Krista and (more reluctantly) the escapades of his friends is well conveyed in Angeles’ portrayal of an essentially decent young man.
Will Madden has the most complex role as Adam, one that could easily have become a pastiche, but Madden shows Adam struggling to find his self-belief using the power that weapons give him as a substitute for any kind of agency over his life. Beast Beast is not exactly sympathetic to Adam but there is nuance in this performance, finding indecision and regret that leach some of the anger from what could have been a two-dimensional presentation.
Despite the 85-minute running time, Madden is certainly in no hurry to push his characters towards their conclusion and watching these relationships grow is as satisfying as the movie’s eventual outcome. The right to bear arms is considered by some to be an essential part of the US Constitution but Beast Beast looks thoughtfully at the consequences of the liberal distribution of guns and the three lives they ruin.
Released on Digital Download on 30 April 2021