by Brandon Thomas
Coming-of-age movies are hard. As we move into adulthood, humans tend to forget the confusing swirl of emotions teens experience day-to-day. That loss of awareness can make these kinds of movies feel phony and tone-deaf. With Beast Beast, writer/director Danny Madden crafts an emotionally authentic portrayal of young adults that’s a true standout.
Nito (Jose Angeles) is the new kid in town. The always tough move to a new school is softened for him when he meets Krista (Shirley Chen), a self-proclaimed theater brat. Nito is immediately smitten. As Krista and Nito spend more and more time together, Krista’s neighbor, Adam (Will Madden, Danny’s brother), is clumsily trying to get his firearms-centered YouTube channel off the ground. As the pressure from his parents to succeed mounts, Adam begins to lose the grip on his own emotional stability.
Produced by Jim Cummings (Thunder Road, The Wolf of Snow Hollow), Beast Beast is a gripping look into the lives of three modern-day young people. While not having the darkly comedic overtones of Cummings’s work, Madden’s film strikes the same level of emotional honesty. Madden seamlessly captures the carefree joy of youth, while also acknowledging the fear, loneliness and confusion that the transition into adulthood can hold.
The natural looseness of the cast is where the film truly shines. Chen and Angeles are captivating with their easy, immediate connection. Will Madden’s Adam is much more internalized and isolated. He captures Adam’s directionless existence by playing the character with a mixture of simmering panic and naivete.
Beast Beast’s visual aesthetic stays grounded and unassuming. While never fully succumbing to that indie impulse of going entirely handheld, the camerawork stays fluid. It’s the kind of cinematography that doesn’t draw attention to itself until you get to one of those compositions that literally takes your breath away.
Similarly, the score starts as a mixture of bells and an organ very much in need of tuning. But as the drama within the film intensifies, the score takes a more sinister turn and comes much more to the forefront.
The film’s third act will likely split much of the audience. It’s not particularly easy to sit through, but does feel like the natural progression of the story. Nothing about the plot or character actions feel gratuitous or cheaply played.
Fans of indie dramas will find a lot to celebrate in Beast Beast. By focusing so strongly on character, and throwing in a few nice twists and turns, these filmmakers have delivered one of the best films of 2021 so far.