Director/writer Danny Madden’s Beast Beast started small. In 2018, his short Krista premiered at SXSW, winning an award for Shirley Chen who played the theatre student of the title. Now Madden and Krista, again played by Chen, return with a full length feature, which expands on the original and introduces a set of new characters, each facing different problems stemming from a society that seems determined to make them grow up far too fast and too soon.
This time Krista is at high school, but she retains her passion for theatre. Something of a star pupil in her group, she throws herself into acting and improvisation with total abandon, giving her otherwise comfortable life some of the excitement and attention she craves. More of that comes from the new boy at school, Nito (Jose Angeles): shy and quiet, he’s a talented skateboarder and the two become increasingly close. While there’s an innocence about their relationship, there’s something darker taking place in the house next to Krista’s. Neighbour Adam (Will Madden) is in his mid-20s but still lives with his parents, spending most of his time in his room making pro-gun videos and, when he does venture outside, it’s to make use of his firearms and film more footage.
Once their characters are established, you immediately start to wonder how their parallel storylines will intersect. Krista and Nito lead very different lives, but it doesn’t take long for them to get together. Yet, while a sense of foreboding lingers over Adam, his connection with them is harder to predict and only explodes onto the screen much later. It marks a change in tone for a story that, up until then, is told in a naturalistic, almost semi-documentary style with moments that feel improvised. But when the story is ramped up, everything moves closer to old fashioned melodrama – arresting, certainly, but out of kilter with the rest of the film.
Madden has several issues in his sights – familiar ones, such as social media and gun control – but here they intersect with three young people, all longing for attention. Krista the performer, Nito the skateboarder and Adam the vlogger. We see very little of their parents and, when we do, their appearances are only brief. Adam’s father in particular, has more of a presence but, when his son starts chasing viewing figures for his videos and is enraged by the subsequent negative comments on his channel, he and the young man’s mother simply disappear off the scene. In a film which sets out to demonstrate the realities that go with the downside of social media, their absence is a baffling gap.
That aside, the three leads are well cast, with Chen delivering a real star-in-the-making performance. She has genuine presence on screen – glowing, luminous and a real force of nature. As Adam, Madden (he is writer/director Danny’s brother) goes through a clear arc before our eyes, from the responsibly minded advocate for firearms to somebody whose isolation sends him down a rabbit hole populated with online comments and viewing stats. True, Beast Beast doesn’t always have the consistency it needs, and its choice of themes is a touch too familiar, but its courageous approach is very much to its credit and Madden is a name to watch out for in the future.
Drama | Cert: 15 | Digital | Blue Finch Film Releasing | 30 April 2021 | Dir. Danny Madden | Shirley Chen, Jose Angeles, Will Madden.