Premiere: January 25th, 2020
Cast: Shirley Chen, Will Madden, Jose Angeles, Courtney Dietz, Daniel Rashid
Director: Danny Madden
Company: Vanishing Angle
IMDB| Metacritic| Sundance
Much as many of us do during our young adult life, Danny Madden’s Beast Beast felt like a film that struggled with a bit of an identity crisis. Set in Small Southern Town, USA, the film revolves around three young people. Krista (Shirley Chen), a vivacious high school theater kid, Nito (Jose Angeles), a new kid skater, and Adam (Will Madden), Krista’s gun-loving neighbor.
What starts out feeling like a bildungsroman and young romance is quickly shadowed by a larger social message waiting to be taught. The three characters are brought together through a tragic experience but often times Adam’s story feels too distinctly like that of an emerging villain to Krista and Nito’s youthful sweetness.
The main climax of the film is almost completely centered around Adam’s rage and instability. To Madden’s credit, there is some depth to Adam as we see him slowly sacrifice his own personal ethics and give in to the social media machine as he tries to build a successful YouTube channel.
Much of the strength of Beast Beast lies with its cast, who slowly bloom their characters from their initial meeting. Chen’s Krista is lively, charismatic, friendly, and emotional. Watching her interact with Angeles’ Nito delivers scenes that feel authentically adolescent. The two have an easy chemistry and it’s charming watching the couple evolve on screen.
And enjoyable as it is to watch Krista and Nito find a connection with each other, it’s equally worrying watching as Adam goes from mild-mannered to an extreme. Madden is not-so-subtle with his commentary on gun control, as we watch Adam wield automatic weapons and buy more and more guns to populate his room in his middle-class suburbia home.
But is Beast Beast a cautionary tale? The final act of the film takes a tragic tale and pushes it to a realm of unrealistic. The ending feels muddied as it tries to gather together a message about gun violence, social media, and what that means for young people. But is what happens considered justice?
I was entranced by Madden’s rhythmic sound editing, but towards the end, not even the hypnotic and chaotic beats could stop me feeling unsure about the way he chose to end the story. Based on his own short film called Krista, it feels like Madden searched for a full-length plot to piece around the original short and it blurred the message along the way.
Much of the film revolves around Krista’s drama classes, even the title Beast Beast is part of a chant that the students yell before every class, harkening “Beast beast, ready to act!” So is the moral of the story about the power of acting? The power of putting on a face? Or is it about violence? Or is it about social media being an act? I’m honestly not sure.