Written by: Hannah Tran | April 15th, 2021
Beast Beast (Danny Madden, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.
Danny Madden’s coming-of-age Sundance drama, Beast Beast, like many other films of its genre, aims to paint a truthful representation of teen culture in modern America. But unlike many of those other films, Madden’s story chooses to display the problems these characters face less through the lens of typical high-school-movie pressures and more through the painfully current anxieties regarding the digital age, careerist values and the routine gun violence of our age. And while it may somewhat fumble the lattermost of these, Madden’s perspective of youth still manages to brutally capture the energy and emotions of its characters with distinctly unique skill.
Within this story of a young skateboarder new to a small town, a theater girl he develops feelings for, and her neighbor who’s developing a gun-focused YouTube channel, the visionary direction often toes the line between narrative and documentary styles. While clearly plot-driven, it never shies away from allowing itself the breathing room to explore its vast array of emotions as if from a spectator’s point of view. Its smart and deliberate camera movements and editing further bolster its immersion into those feelings of chaos, fear, love and loss.
The realistic characters further add to the documentary feel. Madden shows a specific type of respect for his characters, emphasizing their unique maturity, or lack thereof, that is often misunderstood by those not among their generation. He also highlights the care they have for each other and their pronounced ability to find similarities with those dissimilar to them. Moreover, the promising performances of its central trio – Jose Angeles, Shirley Chen, and Will Madden – are fully absorbing with each bringing their own world of emotion to the role. Will Madden, who is both the younger brother of the director and probably the most captivating actor among them, is unfortunately let down by the somewhat shoddy handling of the subject matter involving his character.
While it may present a plausible scenario and honest reactions to it, the last act not only feels rushed but also heavy in a way it doesn’t necessarily feel prepared to reckon with. And it’s in these final moments that the direction seems more distanced than ever, losing its charming fly-on-the-wall perspective and allowing it to become overly disinterested in itself. Despite this, Beast Beast still ably accomplishes its goal. Its honest observation of the contemporary teenage struggle, as demonstrated through its carefully-crafted characters, exciting performances, and intelligent filmmaking, proves Danny Madden an invigorating talent to watch.