Danny Madden’s hectic and erratic Beast Beast is a cautionary tale of gun violence and the turbulences of teenage life. It authentically captures life in high school from different perspectives, but the film lacks a central protagonist.
Instead, the film follows Krista (wonderful Shirley Chen), Nito (Jose Angeles) and Adam (Will Madden) whose stories will inevitably collide by the end of the film. Krista befriends Nito and the two form a sweet relationship, but Nito also gets involved Yoni and his friends who commit smalltime thefts. Adam meanwhile tries to create himself an online presence by posting several videos of him using various firearms. Adam posts a video lying about an encounter with a warthog and is ridiculed online, sending him into rage.
Beast Beast feels both timely and a little too on the nose. Gun violence is a hot topic in the US which is ravaged by several mass shootings. Beast Beast thankfully doesn’t include one nor does it ever fall into trap of over-indulging in trauma porn, but there is a sense of inevitability to its tragic and triggering last third, which renders Beast Beast a little stale, but also displays a powerful message even if there might have been better ways to tell this story.
Madden’s style is frenetic, and Beast Beast is a film full of energy. Kristian Zuniga’s camerawork is intuitive and natural; nothing here is framed particularly carefully. The camera observes and often even struggles to keep up with our free-spirited characters, giving Beast Beast an organic, care-free feeling. Madden’s film feels overly American at times. It might make it difficult to connect with the characters, the narrative just doesn’t feel universal enough, even when the film just portrays the friendships and tribulations of being both young and very online.
The performances are Beast Beast’s biggest strength. Thriving in a difficult role, Will Madden makes the most of a character that is easy to hate. Writer-director Danny Madden’s script often lacks context and not a lot of history is given to any of the characters, but Adam feels like a tragic character from the start. The film doesn’t do enough to allow the audience to empathize with Adam enough throughout to make that ending and the tragedy of it all hit properly. Adam is made into a one-dimensional villain of the story, which is disappointing when there would have been room for something more complex and interesting.
Shirley Chen and Jose Angeles share wonderful chemistry as Krista and Nito. They create a sense of effortless friendship and a believable bond between the characters. But ultimately, Beast Beast is too scattered in its narrative and it doesn’t let us create a meaningful emotional bond with either Krista or Nito. Madden’s film lacks focus and ultimately forces us to watch some incredibly triggering scenes.
Beast Beast never reaches its full potential, but Madden’s free-flowing style and naturalistic approach make this a competent film. Its last third is disappointing in how it exploits the trauma of gun violence in American without saying anything new or interesting about the subject. Regardless, Madden shows great potential and he gets great, authentic performances from his young cast.
Blue Finch Film Releasing presents Beast Beast on Digital Download 30 April